I’m going to start off this admittedly glowing review by stating that I’ll only refer to Dolph Lundgren’s second directorial effort as The Mechanik, since I’m of the belief that The Russian Specialist is both a generic and a flat-out lousy title.
While I’m on the subject of pathetic marketing tactics, Sony Pictures’ decision to dump this enormously entertaining action/revenge picture straight to DVD, while allowing such nonsense as The Covenant, Are We Done Yet?, and Crossover to pollute theaters across the globe, shows an amazing lack of confidence in their own product. While not a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination, The Mechanik is a genuinely thrilling experience and could have easily been Lundgren’s theatrical comeback had Sony given the film the attention it ultimately deserves.
Do you hear me Sony? Get with the program, already. Stop dumping quality pictures into the straight-to-video market while giving lifeless, inane cinematic tumors a wide release. Pretty please. With a Dolph-shaped cherry on top.
I know this makes me sound like a prick, like a big fat know-it-all who thinks he can run the movie division of a multi-million dollar corporation from the comfort of his living room couch, but you seriously have to wonder what’s going on in Hollyweird these days. Films like Pan’s Labyrinth and Children of Men are unfairly neglected by their respective studios while cheap urban comedies and pretty-boy horror pictures clog our cinematic arteries. I’m not saying The Mechanik is as good as those aforementioned films, mind you, but it did receive the proverbial short end of the stick when it came time to release the flick into the marketplace.
Okay, okay. I’m off the soapbox. Time for the review, I promise!
Muscle-bound braniac Dolph Lundgren stars as Nikolai Cherenko, a Soviet military killing machine who retires from dealing brutal bodily harm so he can live in peace as a mechanic in a tiny Russian town with his family. During a drug deal gone terribly wrong, he watches in absolute horror as his child is squashed by a car and his wife is shot dead by a bearded butterball named Sasha who has obviously decided that life is not really his thing anymore. Soon after the incident goes down, Nikolai gathers a few high-powered weapons and exacts a bloody revenge on these heartless killers. End of story.
Or so he thinks.
Years later, Nikolai has fled to America, working illegally as — you guessed it — a mechanic for a Los Angeles automotive repair center. Seemingly out of the blue, our hero is approached by a weeping woman and her tactile lawyer who informs Nikolai that someone has kidnapped this poor lady’s daughter. Who is the culprit, you ask? Cherenko’s old friend Sasha, of course.
Steamed that he failed to finish the job he started oh so many years ago, Nikolia agrees to help rescue the missing girl before Sasha starts whoring her out at his lavish Russian nightclub. So begins the big guy’s journey back to his homeland, an adventure that will thrust our hero into a life-or-death struggle to retrieve the girl and get her safely across the Finnish border – and while he’s at it, take out the bastard who butchered his family in cold blood.
How impossibly cool is Dolph Lundgren? Making the most of the limitations set forth by Nu Image, the whip-smart Swedish engineer has managed to turn a simple rescue-the-girl/chase picture into one of the most thrilling revenge tales I’ve witnessed in quite some time. What makes The Mechanik so special, I think, is Dolph’s ability to convey honest human emotion without sinking deep into the swampy wasteland of gratuitous melodrama.
The entire film is coated with just a thin layer of sadness, allowing you to feel for the characters without being slapped repeatedly in the face with their personal problems. Heartfelt action cinema is a difficult thing to accomplish and few directors are skilled enough to execute them properly. Even John Woo has his problems.
Thankfully, Lundgren is able to handle all of these elements efficiently and effectively, delivering a brisk 90-minute action opus without too many extraneous characters, scenes, and situations weighing the production down. From the film’s tragic opening to its misty-eyed conclusion, The Mechanik is an effortlessly entertaining excursion into familiar territory.
Granted, the story isn’t entirely original and Lundgren’s style does borrow heavily from the likes of Ridley Scott and Paul Greengrass, but the script does what it can without relying heavily on pretentious prattle or hollow theatrics. Great stuff all around despite its somewhat stale origins.
While the touching drama does make for an involving storyline, it’s the action that keeps you glued to your seat. From the moment Nikolia is introduced to that dastardly family-slaughtering villain Sasha, The Mechanik never pauses to catch its breath. The film is overloaded with gun fights galore, culminating in one of the most thrilling conclusions I’ve witnessed since the Donnie Yen-Sammo Hung showdown in Wilson Yip’s superb crime thriller SPL.
Since the flick is stuffed with vile characters who ultimately deserve to die, the picture’s blood-soaked finale is a gloriously satisfying way to round out the narrative. Like all great revenge movies, this one builds to a frothy climax that never fails to deliver the goods.
I warned you in my review for Direct Action that I would gush all over this one, so you really shouldn’t be that surprised to find me drooling all over The Mechanik. It’s easily Nu Image’s best production thus far. Lundgren proves he’s capable of delivering well-crafted emotional action without stumbling over the dramatic overtones in the process.
How this one avoided the cineplex is beyond my range of comprehension. I guess your average movie-going schmuck isn’t too concerned with Dolph’s efforts these days. No, they’ve moved on to Jason Statham and whatever wannabe martial arts master is lurking in the Hollywood wings. Too bad, as The Mechanik is quality entertainment from start to finish.
Take my advice Sony: Give Dolph the comeback he deserves.