Thursday, June 14, 2012
Contemporary American movies are so uniformly execrable that they make even the trashiest movies of the past seem splendid. When I learned last year that a remake of the Charles Bronson movie The Mechanic (1972) was in the offing, I was appalled. Having seen it, I can report that it isn't a "remake" at all but what is being called nowadays a "reboot" - a quite drastic and disastrous revision of the original.
In my review of The American last March, I mentioned some examples of a genre that might be called Existentialist Thriller, in which hired assassins undergo midlife crises. The Mechanic was in the same class. Charles Bronson, whose ugliness was offset by a beautiful physique (he walked like a bipedal panther), played Arthur Bishop, whose expertise and discretion (his ability to kill without leaving a trace) has made him much sought-after and conspicuously wealthy. But he has grown weary of murder and announces his intention to retire.
He takes on a clever young apprentice, played by the icy Jan Michael Vincent, whom he soon despises because of his cocky cynicism. In one scene, Vincent sits and watches a girlfriend bleed to death after she opens her veins in front of him. Bronson calculates, based on her weight, how long it will take and what she will feel as death approaches. Finally, Vincent tosses her his car keys when she chickens out and wants to go to a hospital.
What distinguished the original Mechanic was a kind of miasma of despair in which it submerges its protagonist, who can no longer find satisfaction in his expertise. He might have intoned, as Jean Rochefort does in Salut l'Artiste!, "Je n'éprouve plus aucune volupté."
In the new Mechanic, Jason Statham, with his permanent three-day beard, grimaces and sulks and muscles his way from hit to hit. The first one we witness is so ridiculously elaborate (he hides in a grotto pool with SCUBA gear until his target goes for a swim) that the general tone of incredibility is quickly set. He lives in a bungalow on an island near New Orleans that is outfitted with the latest in modern artwork and expensive appliances. For instance, he has one of those German-engineered record players. He has a large record collection, which he handles with loving care, but on the three occasions the contraption is played, we have to listen to the same Schubert Trio that Kubrick used in Barry Lyndon. I was thoroughly unconvinced that Jason Statham ever listened voluntarily to Schubert. Obviously, Statham doesn't suffer from the angst that beset Charles Bronson.
The new movie makes the apprentice mechanic into an ineffectual drifter with no skills other than self-destructive ones. The new movie makes the murder of his father the motive, rather than ambition and professional jealousy, that inspires him to kill the master mechanic. But the new movie's slickness prevents it from even getting the ending right. The Mechanic Reboot replaces the original movie's stylish despair with an the inhuman cynicism of trash entertainment.