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The Mechanic fails to fixate viewers
Ben Foster, left, and Jason Statham star in "The Mechanic." The film is never serious enough to be a smart action movie, but never over-to-top to be a thriller.

‘The Mechanic'

Starring: Jason Statham, Donald Sutherland, Tony Goldwyn and Ben Foster

Rated: R for strong brutal violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity.

Runtime: 1 hour, 32 minutes

Bottomline: Not enough hits in this hitman movie.



Poor CBS Films. They just can't pick a winner.

After staying out of the theatrical distribution business for more than a decade, CBS launched their film shingle, CBS Films, in 2007. They made what seemed to be a smart choice by choosing Amy Baer as President and CEO. Baer rose through the ranks at TriStar then Columbia and brought a respectable record of box office success to her new post.

But for reasons probably only clear to folks within CBS Films, the entire venture has been an unmitigated failure.

Despite having the backing of a monster parent company like CBS and Baer's obvious talent for choosing crowd pleasers, CBS Films has so far released the most forgettable slate of movies of any studio.

First there was the Brendan Fraser-Harrison Ford medical drama "Extraordinary Measures," then the Jennifer Lopez romantic comedy "The Back-Up Plan," and Dwayne Johnson's unintentionally laughable action flick "Faster."

Following in these dubious footsteps comes this week's "The Mechanic." Like the movies I just listed, this character study/action movie makes so little impact you'll forget about it before you get home from the theatre.

The movie starts out promisingly enough. Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham), lead character and world class hitman, assassinates a Columbia drug lord in the guy's own swimming pool, within his heavily guarded estate, with bodyguards posted on balconies overlooking the pool. I won't give away how he does it, but it's a nifty assassination scene.

After this introduction, Bishop soon finds himself in a difficult situation. Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland), Bishop's former mentor and current handler, is caught stealing from the company both Bishop and Harry work for. The head of this anonymous company, Dean (Tony Goldwyn), tells Bishop that if he doesn't kill Harry, someone else will do it anyway and Bishop's loyalty will then be questioned.

Goodbye, Harry.

The big complication arises when Harry's son, Steve (Ben Foster), asks Bishop to teach him to be an assassin. So Bishop takes Steve under his wing, even though he recently killed Steve's father.

Bishop deals with that ethical dilemma while he and Steve are forced to battle Dean and the company.

For a while, it seems this "reimagining" of the 1972 Charles Bronson movie of the same name wants to be a thinking man's action movie, a more exciting version of "The American," perhaps.

But that strategy is rubbed out before the first act ends, and "The Mechanic" turns into a bloodbath. Only, the movie doesn't allow itself to go over the top and become an all-out, high intensity action flick. So it doesn't work very well as a thrill-kill movie, either.

It ultimately has the same impact as all CBS Films releases so far: none at all.

This movie pales in comparison to the Bronson original. If it didn't star three incredibly watchable actors like Statham, Foster and Sutherland, there would be little to hold our attention at all.

A couple of the action sequences do work, particularly the scene when Foster's character attempts his first hit. The ploy he uses to get close to his mark made the screening audience squirm, and it's the only genuinely suspenseful moment in the movie.

Otherwise, we watch capable actors trying very hard to overcome terrible writing. At one point Dean tries to tough-talk Bishop and delivers what should be a threat. Instead, the line is so silly it's the first unintentionally hilarious moment of 2011.

"The Mechanic" isn't helped by the announcement of Oscar nominations this week. Just as we begin to celebrate the best of recent cinema (even if we disagree with the specific nominations), here comes a movie that almost completely lacks imagination.

Therefore, let us all rejoice that some of those quality 2010 movies are still in theatres for a few more weeks.

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.