The auteur who gave us Con Air, The General’s Daughter, and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is back, extending his cinema terrible of violent, unthinking nihilism and brutal, pointless action. Oh, and misogyny for fun. Hoorah! Why anyone would remake — nominally — the 1972 Charles Bronson flick of the same name is an enormous mystery, but there’s extra suspense in the choice of hack sadist Simon West… unless whatever shadowy underworld figures are behind this flick were deliberately aiming to create amongst the happy moviegoing crowd a sense of futile despairing at the state of the world and everything that happens in it. And an accidental sense of futile despairing at that.
For it’s not as is West had any intention of exploring what it means to live gripped with the knowledge that life is meaninglessness or anything: Christ, that would be depressing, and this ain’t no morbid subtitled foreign film. Shit just looks awesome blowing up, don’t it? Blasts of brain matter and congealed blood simply are the coolest things to project at a camera for the general amusement. Who cares who’s getting shot, or who’s doing the shooting, or why? Better not to know such things, so we can enjoy the gore. That one bit, where that one bad guy says, “Fuck you,” and the other bad guys blast him to atoms with automatic weapons? That’s totally excellent, dude.
Old men — old men in wheelchairs — getting shot point blank in the chest might be handy shorthand for, you know, something bad, if anyone wanted to stop and think about it, which no one does. It’s just what Jason Statham does, okay? He’s “the mechanic,” which sounds like a forced euphemism for a hitman, and is. But he listens to classical music on vinyl albums, which he lovingly cradles from sleeve to expensive retro turntable, so he’s got soul, maybe. Or maybe not. Who cares? Statham (The Expendables, Crank: High Voltage) doesn’t: he clearly appears not to mind being Hollywood’s go-to thug of the moment. If he can peel his shirt off a couple of times and make the girls who like thugs swoon, all the better. And girls like thugs: this we know. Why, it’s hard to decide which is the sexiest moment in the film. It could be when West stages Statham’s visit to his regular prostitute fuck-buddy as a few moments of naked flesh grinding together… this appears to be the highlight of her day, at least, even if he has to run off without even telling her his name, again. Or maybe it’s when Statham’s new psycho apprentice, Ben Foster (30 Days of Night, 3:10 to Yuma), gets picked up in a bar by a lady who tells him, to his bruised and battered face, “I wish someone would hurt me like that.” (He grants her wish, we are led to believe.)
Those are the soft moments in the lives of these brutes, not that there’s any hint from anyone that they should be taken as anything other than moments during which the audience is invited to get off in a different direction from the dominant one of casually vile violence. Neither the cast — not even the often excellent Foster — nor the director are the slightest bit interested in anything other than mutual masturbation. And certainly not screenwriter Richard Wenk, who also wrote the underrated 16 Blocks from a few years back, but with this example of his work, makes me think of nothing but how uncomfortably close his name is to “wank.”
Maybe if the ever estimable Tony Goldwyn (The Last House on the Left, American Gun), wasted here as Statham’s boss, were starring, there might have been a hope of hints of shades of shadows of something human and affecting to cling to, a reason for the existence of this movie. (Donald Sutherland [Astro Boy, Fool’s Gold], as another colleagues of Statham’s, should consider himself lucky to have escaped early.) But even Goldwyn seems to realize how exhausted the film is from its opening moments. Even the instances of sheer absurdity that punctuate the tedious randomness of the episodic action are too few and far between to offer any genuine comic relief, however inadvertent. We’re left with only a mechanical monster who grits out things like “I do assignments,” as if the banality of that were in any way intriguing. It isn’t.