and sometimes poetry

The Mechanic (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

Like a multiple personality disordered general, the finest escapist fare employs its best battalion to war with its premier platoon. At once presenting audiences with the chance to sip of the lethe of ludicrousness, a rock-solid slab of escapism will also subtly expose that audience’s deepest, most penetratingly collective fears. Like Battle: Los Angeles, for example. We’ve seen some version of this preview a few times now, watching it grow from its initial larvae of just that spooky electronic warble hauntingly overlaying random scenes of mayhem, to a fully-developed trailer in which we find not only Jennifer Rodriguez but also Aaron Eckhart facing down swarms of aliens at once technologically superior and anatomically disgustinger than earthlings. This movie is obviously going to be good and obviously about America’s anxiety over China. It will probably be so good that its deeper motives actually flavor the whole, dressing its bland salad of generic conventions with the subtlest vinaigrette of reality: we may actually care whether Bridget Moynahan makes it to that helicopter alive, like we may at some point actually have to care that China’s stopped financing our gargantuan debt, is living on coal and coal alone, and owns half of Africa.

The not-so-finest products of escapism, on the other hand, just kind of slouch around, like a sulky, C-student teen riddled with childhood obesity and early on-set diabetes. Pair that vision with its balding, pot-bellied father, and you have the target audience for The Mechanic. And just to make sure you know you’re in the right wrong place, the movie unfurls a graphic, totally unnecessary sex scene with Jason Statham and a hot prostitute 10 minutes in. Like Statham’s incredibly “helpful” voice-over explaining just what he as “a mechanic” does, it is gratuitous flag-waving that will never happen again. Ben Foster is in this movie, and though he both rages and cries—as he is contractually obligated to do in all his films—he cannot fully inhabit a role whose character is meant to be coterminous with action, and whose action is only occasionally coterminous with interesting. But when it is interesting: wow. This movie has some great violence in it: screwdriver stabbings, garbage disposals, an enormous angry gay hit man, the handle of those wheeler suitcases grafted onto spikes, blood splatter that actually looked real…wonderful! Unfortunately there wasn’t nearly enough of it. The violence sat like a fleeting rainbow on the oil spot of The Mechanic when what we really want from movies of this ilk is a coursing, roiling, killingly unholy thing in which we are totally and fundamentally complicit: the Spill.

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