DVD Tuesday: ‘The Mechanic’ and ‘Daydream Nation’

by W. Andrew Powell

Jason Statham in The Mechanic

Jason Statham in The Mechanic

New arrivals on Blu-ray and DVD this week: Jason Statham stars as the assassin Arthur in the remake of The Mechanic; Kat Dennings plays a sardonic teenager in lust opposite Reece Thompson in Daydream Nation; and Anthony Hopkins takes on the powers of the devil in The Rite.

The Mechanic
Starring: Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Tony Goldwyn, Donald Sutherland, Jeff Chase, Mini Anden
Director: Simon West

Whether you’re talking about animals, aliens, or professionals, people have always been fascinated by predators and killers. We seem to like thinking about what is it that makes these creatures operate on such a different level, and how they can do what they are clearly born to do.

That might partially explain why there are so many movies about hired guns and assassins, but there is another side of that puzzle: tough-guy stars like Charles Bronson and Jason Statham come across as being incredibly cool, and fans are predictably easy to please when it comes to your average action movie.

In this remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson movie of the same name, Statham stars as Arthur Bishop, a modern-day assassin who is the best at what he does: eliminating targets in the cleanest way possible, without making it actually look like someone has been assassinated.

When Arthur’s mentor Harry is murdered, however, the usually detached and professional killer has an uncontrollable urge to hunt down and destroy whoever is responsible. The only complication for Arthur’s plan is when Harry’s son Steve, played by Ben Foster, approaches the assassin and asks if he can help track down the murderer and learn the tricks of the trade.

Without trying to ruin the movie for anyone, the interesting thing about this remake is that it’s obviously a lightly written knock-off that strives for action sequences more than it wants to deal with the dimensions of the character. The original film had Arthur as a far more complex soul, and that made it a touchstone for a certain kind of cerebrally-driven action movie of yesteryear.

By contrast, the remake did not earn very positive reviews, but most critics didn’t exactly hate it either.

“That scowl on Jason Statham’s face may not have budged a millimetre since Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, but his latest action flick proves that his grim Cockney-lout routine can still be plenty effective,” wrote Jason Anderson for Toronto’s Eye Weekly.

Todd McCarthy from the Hollywood Reporter was less impressed, writing in his review that this version of The Mechanic is a, “[f]rantic, numbing redo of the Charles Bronson original for hardcore Statham and action fans only.”

Daydream Nation
Starring: Kat Dennings, Reece Thompson, Josh Lucas, Andie MacDowell, Rachel Blanchard
Director: Michael Goldbach

Rated: 7/10

You could be forgiven for feeling a little dirty after watching Childstar director Michael Goldbach’s dramedy Daydream Nation, a film that stars Kat Dennings as a high-schooler stringing along her English teacher and a fellow student at the same time.

Dropped into a small, middle-of-nowhere town when her father moves from the city, Caroline (Dennings) is bored and the only amusement is seducing Mr. Anderson, played by Josh Lucas, to forget his troubles, and his scruples, and sleep with her. Meanwhile, Thurston, played by Reece Thompson, adores Caroline and wants to be with her, but she only seems interested when it suits her best, which is slowly driving Thurston a little crazy.

Blending humour into a surrealist coming-of-age-style drama, Daydream Nation is well wrought, and Dennings is the perfect star as this wily girl who can’t stand boredom, but the film stumbles, and never fills in much story about the characters. Daydream Nation is far more concerned with wit than detailed storytelling, and while that makes for a snappy film, it feels like the characters are missing a little something, like souls, perhaps.

The Rite
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Ciarán Hinds, Alice Braga, Toby Jones, Colin O’Donoghue, Rutger Hauer
Director: Mikael Håfstrom

Raise your hand if you’re just a little bit tired of all the aimless exorcism movies that have been coming out over the last few years. Although there are some good ones, the majority of them seem to use the exact same formula without bothering to spice things up in the least.

The latest exorcism failure comes from 1408 director Mikael Håfstrom, with Anthony Hopkins as the unorthodox Father Lucas, a priest who takes a fledgling seminary student, played by Colin O’Donoghue, under his wing to train him in the darkness that dwells on Earth. The two would-be champions of the faith are severely tested when they encounter an evil that neither of them may be prepared to face.

Rated at just 19% fresh on RottenTomatoes.com, The Rite is one of Hopkins’ biggest disasters in years, and as Nick Pinkerton of the Village Voice wrote, “Director Mikael Håfström’s foot-dragging pace makes a pretense of intent character study, but Michael’s spiritual trials are occluded by Michael Petroni’s patchy screenplay.”

And Andrea Gronvall of the Chicago Reader wrote, “Horror fans may be disappointed by this handsome exorcism drama, which aspires to the serious religious feeling of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist but delivers little of its shock or gore.”

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