'The Mechanic' (R)

The Mechanic, a loose remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson drive-in staple, feels instantly familiar even if you haven’t seen the original. Haven’t we already had enough movies about solitary, enigmatic hit men? Is there anything possibly left to do with the genre that’s new? The answer, according to director Simon West’s slick, fast-paced time-killer, would seem to be no.

Jason Statham, reprising the same stoic, no-nonsense demeanor he sports in practically every film (The Transporter, Death Race, The Expendables), stars as Arthur Bishop, a killer-for-hire who is given various assignments. Some are meant to look like accidents, others to send a message. Arthur’s favorites, though, are the missions in which no one even knew he was there, such an opening sequence in which he takes out a drug-cartel leader in ingenious fashion, making the death look like an accidental drowning.

Arthur is the sort of guy who can slip in and out of a fortress undetected and can snap a man’s neck with one quick twist. He is also a true soldier, never questioning the orders handed down by his superior (Tony Goldwyn). So when he’s assigned to rub out his mentor, Harry (Donald Sutherland), he does so remorsefully, believing Harry betrayed the shady organization that employs them. Then he meets Harry’s trouble-prone son Steve (Ben Foster) and makes him his protégé, teaching him the rules of their wet work.

Steve is a slow and messy learner, but he carries out his first mission and proves to have the mettle for this dangerous business. The Mechanic, which was written by Richard Wenk and Lewis John Carlino (who, oddly, once directed the 1983 teen-sex comedy Class), follows the teacher-student relationship as it develops, making you wait for the inevitable moment when Steve discovers that Harry offed his father. The movie has a couple of nice set pieces, such as a carefully planned execution in a hotel room that goes horribly wrong. But even when there are guns blazing and stuff blowing up all over the place, the action feels dull and uninvolving. But this is the kind of picture where characters are defined by the way they relish their vinyl LP collections, which tells us nothing other than they are more analog than digital. The Mechanic remains singularly uninvolving — a rote exercise in a genre with characters so familiar they barely register.

Cast: Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Tony Goldwyn, Donald Sutherland, Jeff Chase.

Director: Simon West.

Screenwriters: Richard Wenk, Lewis John Carlino.

Producers: René Besson, Robert Chartoff, William Chartoff.

A CBS Films release. Running time: 92 minutes. Vulgar language, violence, gore, sexual situations, nudity, illegal behavior befitting hit men plying their trade.Opens Friday Jan. 28 at: area theaters


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