Mechanic: Resurrection (2016)

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I normally wouldn’t cover a reasonably big cinema release like this, but it does feature one of my favourite actors, and it’s totally a cheap-n-sleazy B-movie at heart, so here you go. Jason Statham, Jessica Alba, and Tommy Lee Jones – there’s too much acting ability and charisma for this site!

 

I really enjoyed the first “Mechanic” movie, from 1972. Before Michael Winner turned into a joke, Bronson at his impassive best as “Arthur” the assassin, and a pre-alcoholism Jan Michael Vincent as his protege, it was a cold and very well judged thriller, let down a little by its ending I thought, but still an extremely solid effort (it was originally going to be an explicitly gay movie, directed by Monte Hellman, but no-one would fund it and actors pulled out – there’s still a pretty strong subtext, though). Then there was the 2011 remake, with Jason Statham as the Mechanic, and Ben Foster as his young associate – subtext replaced with a scene where Foster allows himself to be seduced by a male gangster in order to kill him. Simon West, whose stuff I almost always like, directed.

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The thing with the first “Mechanic” is that Arthur makes his kills look like accidents because he’s got pride in his work, and because just straight up murdering people is almost too easy. By the time of “Resurrection”, it’s been elevated to the level of fetish. The basic gist of things is, Arthur has been living in Rio under an assumed name since the events of part 1, until Crain – an old associate – finds him and gets him to commit three murders, making them all look like accidents. Why? Absolutely no reason whatsoever, other than this is a “Mechanic” movie. They’re all definitely bad guys, though, so you don’t have as much of that pesky moral quandary stuff.

 

The Stath wants no part of any more killing, beating the crap out of the first group who try and persuade him; until he goes to hide with his friend Mei (Michelle Yeoh) on her tropical island, and then gets tracked down again. I like how, in a post-Snowden world, they spend no time at all on the explanation, just assuming the viewer will know how impossible it is to truly disappear any more. This time it’s Gina (Jessica Alba) trying to persuade him, but she’s doing it under duress too, as she runs a refuge for child victims of human trafficking and Crain has threatened to kill / traffic them all unless she does this for him. Arthur and Gina fall in love, sort of believably (I mean, they’re both gorgeous), and then she gets kidnapped by Crain again, which finally forces Arthur out of retirement.

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It’s here that “Resurrection” effectively becomes the computer game “Hitman” for about 45 minutes. Shave Jason Statham’s head and put him in the iconic outfit, and he’d be a far better choice for the role than either of the guys who played him before; the whole thing of trying to make murder look like an accident dovetails with the game perfectly, too. Perhaps this started off as a rejected script for the most recent “Hitman” movie? Anyway, we see Arthur do his thing in a variety of locations – Thai jail, weird pool with a glass bottom that sticks out over the side of a skyscraper, and finally an old Soviet-era monument in Bulgaria. There’s setup where you see his cool gadgets, a little establishing shot of the area, and then he goes to work. It’s not to say any of this is bad – the scene where he eliminates the guy in the pool is absolutely fantastic – but it’s very strongly reminiscent of how the game operates, more so than any of the movies based on the game.

 

Tommy Lee Jones is the coolest of all the assassination targets, and one gets the feeling he enjoyed the chance to play a rather camped-up OTT character; and Alba brings more to the token female role than most would have done. Sam Hazeldine as Crain is villain-by-the-numbers; but what about our dear friend The Stath? Even his biggest fan (me) would struggle to see a ton of difference between Arthur and Frank from the “Transporter” trilogy – both aesthetes in a world of death, both gruff and no-nonsense, both amazing martial artists. Perhaps Arthur smiles more and kills more freely? If you like Jason Statham in any other action movie, then you’ll certainly like him in this. Talking of which, I’d have loved to see more “Parker” movies, the other potential franchise that he tried to launch, but that’s a complaint for another time. In the “Mechanic” series, you get a perfect example of bad-ass-dom, and that’s just fine.

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I said up top that this is a cheap-n-sleazy B-movie at heart. You’ve got the love interest who, for once, isn’t about to secretly betray the hero; a wacky, OTT villain type; a variety of colourful locations; and plenty of extremely good fight and stunt scenes. But you’ve also got some weird cost-cutting, like the extremely obvious green-screen in some scenes; I mean, you’ve already spent millions of dollars, why not pony up a little bit more to make them look realistic? Or just film in those locations for a bit? Or go the other way and make them obviously unrealistic? I don’t know, I’m not a producer.

 

It’s a lot of fun, but the one segment that pissed me off was the Thai prison one. Now, he’s been told to make it look like an accident, but when he does the job, he leaves the victim posed in front of a shrine twisted in a weird way that no-one would ever do to themselves, then runs past a bunch of people who could identify him, then blows up the wall of the prison to escape. They even have his photo! And the whole thing about “you have 36 hours to do this” – why? There’s no reason for the constraint, it’s not like the crime empire won’t still be there to take over if Arthur has a week to do each job. Anyway.

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It’s another very solid, fun, fast-paced action movie for our man Statham. A rental is highly recommended.

 

Rating: thumbs up

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In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2007)

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Wondering why Uwe Boll bothered to licence “Dungeon Siege” as the game to make a movie from is almost as much fun as the movie itself. The game was never a mega-hit, seen as the poor cousin of the “Elder Scrolls” series of games (and a weak combination of “Ultima” and “Diablo” in terms of gameplay). I assume money was involved somewhere, which may point to the $60 million budget of this. $60 million! For Uwe Boll! You might even have been surprised to learn that the movie was based on a computer game, so minor was the link (“A Dungeon Siege Tale” was much smaller on the posters); and the link was completely broken for its two sequels, which are “In The Name Of The King” movies only.

One of the main criticisms thrown at our friend Boll is his rather odd casting choices, like the people he assembles don’t really belong in the same film. This could be exhibit A in that weird pointless court case – as well as a starring role for Jason Statham, we get John Rhys-Davies, Leelee Sobieski, Ray Liotta, Ron Perlman, Clare Forlani, Matthew Lillard, and Burt Reynolds as the King. Burt Reynolds! He seems to be in that late-period Marlon Brando mindset of not wanting or having to try, just turning up being enough for him. Even though they’re a surprising bunch to see together, I don’t mind it.

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Statham is Farmer, an orphan boy who’s grown up to be a good solid adult. He farms (obviously), has a beautiful wife (Forlani), a young son, has been trained by the village badass (Perlman) to be a great fighter, basically your general all-round hero in the making. The King’s nephew (Lillard) wants the throne, as the king has no children, so he throws his lot in with evil wizard Ray Liotta; he takes over the Krug race (sort of the Orc’s poor cousin) and they try and take over the Kingdom. One of the villages they overrun is Farmer’s, one of the kids they kill is his son, so he puts down his turnips and picks up a sword. If you want an extremely detailed recap of the plot, get yourself to Wikipedia. I’m all about trying to psychoanalyse Uwe Boll through his movies.

But we must talk of my favourite “Sliders” alumnus. John Rhys-Davies and Leelee Sobieski (as the father-daughter good wizard duo) feel like they’re survivors from some previous rewrite; the JRD / Liotta fight at the end is pure Obi-Wan / Darth Vader, but none of the other characters conform to the stereotype so it all feels a bit odd and undercooked.

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Originality is definitely not one of this film’s strong suits. The primary inspiration is obviously “Lord of the Rings”, but there’s little flavours of a dozen other films in there. Why are there ninjas on the side of the good guys? Because Uwe Boll, that’s why. To anyone who says “there’s no way ninjas would be in this era / time period”, there’s also no way they’d have magic and weird gross orcs either, so quit your worrying. No-one really seems to bother about sticking to “fantasy conventions”, and while I’m quite glad about that you might not be. A conversation you need to have with yourself before thinking of viewing? Perhaps best not to think about the lots of little cul-de-sacs the film gets itself into, and you may have to just enjoy the spectacle with this one.

But the spectacle is great. Filmed in Canada, it does a great job of doubling for a fantasy kingdom, and they use the huge trees and uniquely Canadian landscape to good advantage. Boll really did a good job of making the movie look good, with nice special effects (the flying / teleporting thing is really well done) and many fairly hefty battle scenes. You can see where every penny of the $60 million went.

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Is it any good? That’s a slightly trickier question. It’s certainly better than the near-hysterical negative reviews it got at the time, which mocked everything about it, giving it Razzie nominations, a long-term bottom 100 IMDB rating, with some site ranking it in the ten worst computer game movies of all time (it’s not like there’s thousands of them, so this isn’t the worst thing in the world). The more you think about it, the sillier it seems, but Boll’s movies at the very least have a sense of humour and don’t take themselves especially seriously. Well, most of the characters do, but then you get Statham (who takes everything very seriously) vs Liotta (who realises just how big a joke this all is) and the style-clash does baffle a little.

I can sense this becoming a trend – years after the Boll mockery died away and you can watch his movies with fresh eyes, they’re…not so bad. They’re not great, by any stretch, but compared to more recent genre fare they look great – top actors, decent special effects, well-paced. I laughed with this movie way more than I laughed at it, and I think if you’ve got a relatively open mind you will too. Honestly, if the me of 2007 could see the me of now…first up, he’d be sad my beard was going grey, but then he’d mock me for saying nice things about Uwe Boll movies.

Rating: thumbs up

Wild Card (2015)

In an example of pun-gone-mad literal titling that I can only applaud, Jason Statham’s latest sees him play maverick Vegas bodyguard Nick WILD – a man whose only vice is playing CARDS. Actually, scratch that, he has two vices: cards and freshly squeezed grapefruit juice. Maybe it’s a subtle nod to the film’s pulp novel origins. Or maybe I’m overthinking it.

wild-card-poster-debutFor a mid to low budget actioner this boasts a quite stellar supporting cast and crew. Directed by Simon ‘simply the’ West (Con Air, Expendables 2 and a load of other Statham joints) and adapted from his own novel by two time Oscar winner William Goldman, it also features Sofia Vergara, Stanley Tucci, and Jason ‘George Costanza’ Alexander in inexplicably and frustratingly small cameo roles. Serenity now!!

In contrast to the unhinged majesty of films like Crank 2: High Voltage, this is one of Stathe’s more considered character pieces – one that allows him to run the full gamut of emotions from broodingly enigmatic to enigmatically brooding. Wild is a loner (of course), a man who never knows when to stick or twist. Trapped in a toxic co-dependant relationship with a city he loathes and the lowlifes that inhabit it, every time he thinks he’s out, they pull him back in (somebody should use that).

Nick gets a call from that most reliable Statham movie staple – the childhood sweetheart who’s about 15 years younger than him (#YEWTREE) – asking him to help her gain revenge on a brutal rapist. Played by Heroes ‘star’ Milo Ventimiglia, Dave DeMarco is a despicable fuck with an Ian Watkins beard and a sideline in sadism: he forces his victims to watch the final two seasons of Heroes – ‘Oh god, not the series with a load of carnies and T-Bag from Prison Break. YOU MONSTER!’

After no doubt causing a Twitterstorm by victim blaming her and saying she shouldn’t have gone to the Golden Nugget in the first place, Nick reluctantly agrees to help. Using all his detective nous – he asks a maid if she knows who it is, she says yes – Nick tracks DeMarco down to his hotel suite and busts heads with no more than his fists and a brutally deployed debit card (so much for contactless payment). Then they extort 50 grand, humiliate him by threatening to chop his lad off, and leave room service to clear up the mess. These people have no respect for low paid immigrant workers.

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But Nick isn’t satisfied with his lot because he needs enough money for that sailing retreat in Corsica he regularly fantasises about (‘waterway to have a good time’) and so gambles the lot on the craps tables. Yep, Simon West is yet another director who has an inexplicable boner for neverending casino scenes. I dunno, maybe it’s because I have no vices outside brogues and drone metal LPs, or maybe I’ve heard Victoria Coren turding on about poker once too often, but I don’t get it – there’s no new or exciting way to show cards being repeatedly flipped over, the house always wins, and that’s another 20 minutes of my life wasted. Even the excellent Casino Royale verged on being a World Pokerstars tournament where an action film occasionally broke out. Anyway. I’ve digressed. This isn’t about how much I hate Card Bores.

The film veers off and introduces but never fully commits to various subplots, like a young Zuckerberg avatar hiring Wild to teach him how to grab life by the balls, but it never develops into the buddy comedy you think it might. The dramatic centre is very much Stathe versus his own internal demons, though there is an amusing verbal face-off between Wild, DeMarco and the great Stanley Tucci playing a mob boss who calls everyone by their full name (Nicholas) in a way that only camply threatening film villains do.

Overall there’s actually surprisingly little ass kicking, which seems an odd choice. Hiring Statham and not having him do much fighting is about as pointless as buying a bike and then walking it along the pavement (seriously. Why do people do that?) But when the fights do come they’re satisfyingly bone-crunching and refreshingly creative – particularly in the climactic battle where Wild takes on DeMarco and his hired goons with nothing more than a teaspoon and a really small fish knife – ‘can somebody pleeeease, remove theeese cutleriees, from my kneees?’ pleads DeMarco in the final scene.

It’s alright I suppose. Statham does what Statham does, he does it better than most, and if you like him driving along the strip in a muscle car to a pumping classic rock soundtrack then you’ll like this. But compared to a lot of his output it’s weirdly underpowered, muted, and just not as much fun as you’d hope.

Expendables 3 (2014)

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I really didn’t like the second Expendables film. Or the first one, for that matter. Yet here I am again, giving part 3 a try. And, you know what? I think they’ve cracked it! Some of the problems remain, but I think they’ve finally embraced the ridiculousness of it all.

Stallone and his crew start by pulling off a pretty impressive moving train rescue of a prisoner, who turns out to be…Wesley Snipes! He’d been in some deep dark prison that officially didn’t exist for 8 years, but he’s a former member of the crew and I guess the motto is “never leave an Expendable behind”.

We get our first taste of the major running theme when Snipes, asked what he spent all that time in prison for, says “tax evasion”. Throughout, there are references in the script to the film itself, the process of filming it, or the previous films of its stars. So you’ll get Schwarzenegger talking about how this is his last favour to Stallone, Harrison Ford dropping a Star Wars line, and even (in one fairly appalling moment) Mel Gibson talking about how you wouldn’t like him when he gets angry. Ultimately, if people want to employ Mel Gibson again, and don’t mind that it will keep people away from the cinema (Jewish people, women, people who don’t like awful human beings), then it’s their dollar. The moral case against some films is an article for another time, perhaps.

Anyway, back to the action. While Snipes is helping them on their next mission, they run into Mel Gibson, another former Expendable who went over to the dark side. Thing is, Stallone thought he’d killed him years ago, so him now being a super-wealthy international arms dealer is a bit of a surprise, and sends Stallone into a downward spiral. He fires his old team, and then goes to mercenary-supplier Kelsey Grammer (!) to get a new team, one who don’t mind this being a one-way mission. Kellan Lutz (from Twilight) is perhaps the biggest name of the new fish, but the obvious breakout star of this lot is UFC fighter Ronda Rousey. While not, at this point, the greatest actor in the world, she can kick ass and is a strikingly beautiful woman, so I see her having a similar / perhaps slightly better career than other MMA-star-turned-actor Gina Carano.

But Stallone’s hubris gets his new team captured! What will happen! Will the original team, plus a few old friends, get in on the rescuing action? Just who else will show up?

The climactic battle is sort-of a reverse version of “The Raid” (people trapped in building, fighting to get out), I’m positive was sold to the producers in those exact terms, and it’s amazing. No two ways about it, the best fight scene in any of the three films. The reason is, they stopped trying to pretend that these people, doing this, is likely to happen in the real world. It’s an over the top slice of escapism, and the acknowledgement of this makes it more fun. Stallone shoots an insanely large number of people, tanks are commandeered, there are some sweet bike stunts and some comic relief made good.

That comic relief is Antonio Banderas, who plays a guy you think might be faking it about being a badass fighter. He keeps trying to get on Stallone’s team, talks constantly, and acts like a guy who’s never shot a gun a day in his life. And through the final battle, he still doesn’t shoot, accidentally taking out a couple of goons on the way. I thought “either he’s not going to fire a single bullet the entire time he’s there, or he’s going to be the biggest badass of them all”. I will leave that fun discovery to you, the viewer.

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Of course, it’s not perfect. The banter is still awful and wooden, which may well be a reference to how bad it was back then, but I think is more likely to be the writer (Stallone) not understanding how people sound these days – the entry of parkour into this film indicates he’s got up to the late 90s on his cultural references now. Anyway, Harrison Ford (replacing Bruce Willis as Sly’s CIA contact, dismissing Willis with the fairly clever line “he’s out of the picture”) is flying a helicopter round the scene of the final battle, and as a large group of goons are mown down by his machine gun fire, he growls “that had to hurt”. Of course it bloody hurt! You just shot them! What sort of monster are you?

There’s poor acting a-plenty, as well. Dolph Lundgren, never the greatest actor, has the good sense to stay in the background through most of this one, and I’m not sure Randy Couture gets more than a line or two. Ronda Rousey is going to be great, but she’s not here, and my favourite, Terry Crews, is sidelined for most of the film. Also, Ford, Schwarzenegger and Stallone don’t really try, realising people go to see them be them, not “act”. Still, Mel Gibson reminds us why in happier times he was a great leading man, Jason Statham continues to smirk his way through the huge paychecks he’s no doubt receiving for these movies, and the rest of the new blood remind us that in the 21st century, action stars need to be able to act as well as look good swinging through a window firing a rifle.

While not a great film, it’s certainly an entertaining one, which is more than can be said for the previous two Expendables movies. Also, now a non-action-star like Kelsey Grammer has become part of the family, it opens up all sorts of possibilities for future movies, plus you’ve got people like Pierce Brosnan saying they’re in talks for the fourth one. Ah well, if it’s as much fun as this one I’ll be happy to watch it.

Rating: thumbs up

The Expendables 2 (2012)

 I’m not entirely sure there’s any reason trying to do a normal review of this film. It defies analysis, or anything remotely approaching how a film critic (even an amateur like me) would deal with a film. But I’ll give it a go.

That caption should read "Back (Problems) For War"

That caption should read “Back (Problems) For War”

This film has literally everyone in it who ever starred in a 1980s action film. Mickey Rourke quit after the first film, but the sequel brings in  – Jean Claude Van Damme (with his co-star from the most recent Universal Soldier film as his sidekick); Chuck Norris (accompanied by the theme music from “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly”, as if the filmmakers really wanted Clint Eastwood but realised the best they could afford was another right-wing nut, but one who’d not worked in a decade); Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis (who both appeared in the first one too, I guess, but had bigger parts here); and of course the main cast – Sylvester “wow, HGH sure changes a person” Stallone, Jason Statham, Randy Couture, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren and Terry Crews.

I was actually wracking my brain and can’t think of a single action star of that era who’s been left out. Maybe Barry Bosworth, star of the amazingly-titled “One Tough Bastard”? Jackie Chan, who was never really a Li-style action star? Cynthia Rothrock and Michelle Yeoh too, but I guess mature women have no place in this brave new world. I think they got all the main ones.

So, the basic plot of this film is that Stallone, Van Damme and Schwarzenegger are hugely wealthy men who paid a bunch of decent younger action stars to do this super-cool-sounding adventure with them so they can pretend to be young…oh wait, that’s real life, not the plot. The Expendables (who, for their name, lose very few members) have to stop some baddies stealing some Cold War-era nuclear material, and…no, that’s about it.

THE GOOD

The action stuff. This film was directed by Simon West, who made one of my favourite films ever (“Con Air”), a film which should have been awesome but which sucked (the first “Tomb Raider” film) and then apparently alienated a bunch of people in Hollywood and the jobs dried up. Anyway, he did what he could with this one, and the action scenes are decent. There’s also one fantastic fight – the Stath vs. JCVD’s sidekick, which is short but looks like two excellent fighters beating the crap out of each other.

Jason Statham and Terry Crews. Two guys who don’t really need this franchise, and who look suitably ashamed to be reading some of this dialogue out. And JCVD makes a decent villain too.

THE BAD

First up, the banter. Someone told these guys that a bit of playful banter in between scenes of carnage is a good thing, but unfortunately they hired a sexually frustrated teenager with no friends to write these parts. Perhaps it’s some meta joke about how bad dialogue was in those 80s action classics?

The acting mostly sucked too, but then I guess what should we expect? Schwarzenegger and Norris effectively play themselves, Randy Couture isn’t an actor and a lot of other guys were clearly not hired direct from a stint at the RSC.

THE UGLY

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BOOM! TAKE THAT YOU GUYS! (high fives imaginary audience)

In conclusion, it’s stupid and only worth bothering with if you suffered some sort of head trauma and forgot about the 80s. Remember these guys as they were – kicking ass in low-budget films in a variety of colourful locales; not as they are, which is sad old men doing the equivalent of 4 different bands all getting together to form one monstrous supergroup, years after fame left them…and trying to write new material.

The Expendables 2 on IMDB
Buy The Expendables 2 [DVD]