If Netflix is looking for testimonials on behalf of its streaming service, I’m putting my hand up.
This week, I went to a screening of the new version of “The Mechanic” and then went home and, three clicks of a mouse later, was watching the original 1972 version with Charles Bronson on my laptop.
Given that Hollywood now seems to be so thoroughly invested in the remake business (or “reboot” if you want to sound hipper), the instant ability for a moviegoer to go back and compare and contrast a remake with the original is invaluable.
Were characters changed drastically or cut? Did even a snatch of the original dialogue remain intact?
Of course, it doesn’t take many examples (“The Italian Job,” “Sabrina,” “Payback,” etc.) to confirm what most of us already know: Remakes are rarely made because someone has a better idea. It's usually because they just see the possibility of money being made with buzzy new stars. The studio or the producer already owns the rights to the material. And the title is familiar, i.e. pre-sold.
(Notice how rarely a box-office turkey gets remade. Apparently, no one is clamoring for revisionist versions of “Ishtar” or “Hudson Hawk.”)
Was there a crying need to remake “The Mechanic”? The 1972 original starred Charles Bronson and was directed by Michael Winner (the two would reteam two years later to make the blockbuster revenge drama, “Death Wish”).
Bronson plays a professional assassin, skilled at making it appear that his targets have died of natural causes or in an accident.
Watched today, it’s surprisingly leisurely in its pace — and darkly brooding.
It seems as much an art-house picture — especially in its first half — as an action movie. The opening sequence, in which Bronson carefully stakes out and sabotages a target’s seedy Los Angeles apartment and then kills his victim, has no dialogue and runs for more than 15 minutes.
Clearly, times have changed.
This new “Mechanic” — starring British Olympic diver-turned-action hero Jason Statham and directed by Simon West — is faster, bloodier, more brutal and occasionally wittier than the original.
The basic plot is the same — Statham’s hit man becomes the mentor to a younger, hot-headed, would-be assassin (Ben Foster, taking on the role Jan- Michael Vincent played in the original).
But this time around much of the action takes place in New Orleans and Chicago, rather than the Los Angeles and Naples settings of the 1972 film.
The new movie does retain its hero’s fondness for classical music, though Statham dispenses with the groovy turtlenecks and red silk robe that Bronson modeled in the first film.
How does Statham stack up against Bronson?
Bronson had more hair, a craggier face and always carried with him the sense that somewhere deep in his past he had been badly hurt.
But Statham, he of the chiseled physique and sexily receding hairline, holds his own here, doing what he has to in scenes and no more — which is perfect for a movie like this.
What the new “Mechanic” does have over the old one is the casting of Foster, who also brought life to the remake of “3:10 to Yuma.”
In the original, Vincent walks through the movie, a punk with sun-streaked blond locks who poses and pouts. The far more gifted Foster plays the role with a hopped-up intensity that keeps you guessing about just what havoc his character might be capable of wreaking.
Bottom line: One film isn’t better than the other; they’re just different, each a reflection of its time and audience expectations.
Then again, if any one goes to either film expecting to see a grease monkey tuning-up cars, both movies will disappoint.