Has enough time yet passed for a new Jason Statham action thriller to qualify as a throwback? Even in their mid-’00s heyday, Statham’s movies felt like descendants of earlier eras, offering ’80s excess on ’70s budgets; it’s one reason he was so at home in Sylvester Stallone’s Expendables crew. But Statham’s solo vehicles also have a Eurotrash/Asian fusion sheen that’s very much of their time. Since the release of his 2011 thriller The Mechanic (a remake of a ’70s Charles Bronson vehicle, naturally), the economics of the low-level action movie have shifted to such a degree that the belated sequel Mechanic: Resurrection boasts a stronger cast on a visibly lower budget. The latter, at least, makes sense, presumably accommodating minimal, borderline nonexistent demand.
The least requested part two of the summer finds Statham’s ingenious hitman Arthur Bishop retired and living on a boat off the coast of Rio, tending to his vinyl collection. Bishop is the kind of bloke who arms his boat to explode by remote control the way other people would flip on a burglar alarm, and keeps caches of guns, passports, and burner phones at various under-floorboard locations around the world. They come in handy whenever menacing figures from his past track him down (he is, as they actually say, a hard man to find) and try to coerce him into taking one to three last jobs, depending on how these hilariously elaborate kills are counted. The movie implies this is happening for the first time, but it seems like it’s probably a regular thing.
Before it even gets to the unsavory satisfaction of elaborate killing, Mechanic: Resurrection is overcomplicated in the manner of an old B-movie. For some reason, Bishop has to meet up with Mei (Michelle Yeoh) in Thailand, get tricked into rescuing damsel bait Gina (Jessica Alba), and then get motivated to rescue her for real when nefarious Crain (Sam Hazeldine) holds her hostage, demanding that Bishop complete three more impossible-mission-level hits. Many of the early scenes exist primarily to give Statham and Alba a chance to relax on the beach and show off their high degree of physique maintenance. But they do have a few grudgingly cute moments together before Alba (playing a war vet turned charity worker, naturally) gets re-taken and must then carefully budget out the handful of punches and groin-kicks afforded to heroines in distress.
That Alba and supporting player Tommy Lee Jones don’t have much screen time is mostly irrelevant; Statham generally doesn’t use co-stars the way that regular actors do. Even for an action star, he’s a very physical performer, with his ever-lowered brow and swimmer’s sleekness. He’s perfectly suited to the rigors of Bishop’s assassination gauntlets, like a prison hit where he must stop others from killing his target first (the murder has to look accidental, naturally), or a Ghost Protocol-ish sequence that involves death by destruction of a high-rise pool.
Though Mechanic: Resurrection has plenty of gunfire and stabbing, director Dennis Gansel doesn’t lose sight of Statham as a body in motion. The camera follows closely as he throws himself around a boat several times over, as comfortable hurling chairs as he is with hand grenades. The film looks at other resources with less clarity, mixing location work with lousy green-screen—and then siding with the green-screen by staging far too many stunts higher in the sky than the movie can depict convincingly.
All of this has kind of a washed-out DTV vibe, in a fun end-of-summer sort of way. Statham and Gansel don’t recreate the Transporter magic; those were lovingly ridiculous action movies, while Mechanic: Resurrection is more hastily ridiculous. But after a season of sagas, revivals, and franchise hubris, the flatness of a Statham sequel inspires its own kind of trash nostalgia.