Of all the many things I thought about The Mechanic, I never thought anyone would bother with a sequel. It took them five years to collect enough spare change down the back of various sofas, but they finally had enough to make a cheap thriller with passable stunts and a no name cast. Then they spent the money on Jason Statham, Jessica Alba, Michelle Yeoh and Tommy Lee Jones, and there was nothing left for a script, stunts, or even CGI. The first movie was an unwanted remake of a 1970s Charles Bronson movie; huge swathes of this one look like an unwanted extra episode of a 1970s TV show (especially anything set on the villain’s “yacht”). Location is established with a creaky mixture of stock footage and green screening in the backdrops behind the backlot in much the way that Alias did so much better more than a decade ago.
What’s kind of nuts is that the expensive talent have all done good work in action movies before. OK, Statham doesn’t even know what the words “quality control” mean, but he’s been doing this long enough that the sheer shakiness of it must have been obvious. Michelle Yeoh is both a great actress and a brilliant physical performer, and about as much exercise as she gets here is holding a pair of binoculars - in fairness, they may not have been able to afford to get her to do much more. Jessica Alba used to be an unexpectedly charismatic presence in the middle of weird Jim Cameron TV misfire Dark Angel, not least because you could believe her kicking her way through anything bothersome, so it’s pretty miserable watching her as designated chick with a fixed ratio of one punch for every ten the Stath gets. And then there’s Tommy Lee Jones, classing up the whole proceedings for the roughly ten minutes of screen time he gets. On the one hand, he delivers even cheesy dialogue as though he’d just thought of it. On the other hand, he almost gets away with a soul patch and two ear rings. And on the third, most important hand, he is such a skilled actor that at no point does his face ever give away what he must have been thinking “I did The Fugitive twice and Under Siege the only time it was good, and now I’m in %^&^$ing Bulgaria?"
Anyhow, it’s 98 minutes long, and it’s got about 40 minutes worth of movie in it. There are three or four big set pieces, strung together with a plot which seems to have been workshopped in a noisy pub after closing time from shaky memories of 2011’s The Killer Elite (also starring the Stath). The Stath has to kill three people, and the killings all have to look like accidents. If he doesn’t, Jessica Alba will be killed. The only elegant kill - and if you’re watching a hit-man movie, you’re there for the elegant kills - is pretty much showcased in the trailer. The other action scenes are messy and borderline half hearted; the only thing which comes close to vintage Stath is a punchup all over a cafe in Rio which climaxes with a jump off a cable car. Getting that to look less than ridiculous seems to have eaten up way too much of the money, with nothing left over to make believable explosions, or even to pay a guy to get the timings to make sense. The Stath keeps getting given impossible deadlines to kill his next victim. Every time he gets a deadline, he’s stuck in the middle of the ocean, miles from the nearest airport. By the time he even gets to where he has to do the kill … but instead we get a montage of skulking and preparation which would have taken days ….
Well, it was a weak week for movies in Dublin, and my expectations weren’t high. But this would have been disappointing as straight to video. How could they get a cast like that into a mess like that? As I peered at the credits to see if they actually managed to shoot A roll anywhere but Bulgaria (yes, Thailand), it came to me. The Stath had been given a mission. He had to get Michelle Yeoh, Jessica Alba and Tommy Lee Jones to appear in a movie so terrible no-one would believe that they were in it. And it had to look like an accident. Man, it really did.