Prepare to be packed with action: no punches pulled with reviews of The Mechanic, The Missing Person, Direct Contact, and Young Bruce Lee

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Paignton film critic Tom Leins blows away the cobwebs with an action-packed selection of DVD releases.

Based on the 1972 Charles Bronson movie of the same name, The Mechanic (Momentum) is a welcome opportunity to see unreconstructed British action hero Jason Statham strut his stuff, away from the swollen ensemble cast of The Expendables.

Statham stars as Arthur Bishop, a self-styled ‘Mechanic’ (elite assassin) who operates by a strict moral code, and never lets his personal feelings interfere with his job. However, when the shadowy agency that employs him dupes Arthur into murdering his own mentor, Harry (Donald Sutherland), Arthur smells a rat, and enlists Harry’s estranged son Steve (Ben Foster) to learn the family trade and help him seek revenge against the men who ordered his father’s death. While the juxtaposition between methodical master and hot-headed, impulsive student provides the movie with an engaging undercurrent, it is the increasingly inventive array of dismemberments, explosions and decapitations that gives The Mechanic its lifeblood.

Interestingly, The Mechanic is directed by British filmmaker Simon West – who burst onto the Hollywood scene with the enjoyably loopy ‘guilty pleasure’ Con Air in 1997, only to sink into TV movie no man’s land after directing the dubious Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.

The hitman caper finds the Brit in surprisingly aggressive form, and to his credit, West’s unexpectedly grisly take on the mainstream action flick is refreshingly bloody. Statham’s undeniably impressive physicality – he’s reportedly one of the few contemporary action heroes to actually perform his own stunts – is entertaining, but he’s generally more fun to watch when he’s in tongue-in-cheek mode, as in the Crank and Transporter movies.

In truth, The Mechanic is slightly, well… mechanical, with none of Statham’s trademark comedic verve. Nevertheless, when the dust settles, The Mechanic is an economically told, sporadically explosive action movie – albeit one that is unlikely to linger in the memory for too long.

Acclaimed writer-director Noah Buschel’s third feature, The Missing Person (Soda Pictures), stars Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire, Revolutionary Road) as John Rosow, an alcoholic private detective who is hired to tail a man on a train journey, from Chicago to Los Angeles.

After a handful of red herrings – Rosow mistakenly believes that the object of his scrutiny is a paedophile – the private eye discovers that Harold Fullmer is actually an official ‘missing person’ who opted to disappear following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and carve himself a new life. Persuaded by a large reward, Rosow is compelled to bring Harold back to his wife in New York City – against the man’s will – and the boozy private eye is forced to wrestle with his conscience over whether returning the reluctant Harold to a life that technically no longer exists is the right course of action.

The versatile, in-demand Shannon (who has been cast as General Zod in Zack Snyder’s upcoming Superman: Man of Steel) has a nice line in world-weary gumshoe dialogue, but the movie’s strangely hollow core lacks the level of emotional resonance that this kind of movie needs.

The hyper-stylised neo-noir is a tricky thing to pull off, and The Missing Person’s marriage of retro noir chops and contemporary subject matter is only sporadically successful, with the aimless narrative and lack of hardboiled attitude significantly reducing its overall impact. All in all: intriguing, but not as interesting as it sounds on paper.

Direct Contact (Lionsgate) stars 1980s action icon Dolph Lundgren as Mike Riggins, a disgraced ex-US Special Forces operative imprisoned somewhere in Eastern Europe. Never mind the Balkans, what about the plot? Mike is approached by shadowy CIA operative Clive Connelly (Michael Pare) who offers him his freedom in exchange for the rescue of an American woman, Ana Gale, who is allegedly being held hostage by a ruthless warlord.

The retrieval mission poses few problems for a man of Mike’s talents, but when the dust has settled, Mike realises that the kidnap story was just a ruse to bring Ana out into the open, where she is at the mercy of sinister government forces and violent Balkan paramilitary operatives. What follows is akin to Bird On A Wire for the Ratko Mladic generation, and it is every bit as bad as that sounds.

Given the right material Lundgren is a likeable performer, but Direct Contact is arguably one of his most sluggish outings in recent years. Saddled with an undemanding script and a lazy array of action sequences, the big Scandinavian has very little to work with. Furthermore, the majority of the cast should consider themselves lucky to be picking up work in all-expenses-paid Bulgarian thrillers like this, with only Uwe Boll sidekick Michael Pare seemingly possessing any enthusiasm for the enterprise.

Tellingly, the film was made prior Lundgren’s “don’t call it a comeback” resurgence in Sly Stallone’s The Expendables, and the big man really does deserve better than this. Speaking of which, if rumours are to be believed, Dolph’s next movie will see him go head-to-head with fellow washed-up hard-man Steven Seagal in the tantalisingly-titled Skin Trade. Watch this space!

Legendary martial artist Bruce Lee is a true action icon, and Young Bruce Lee (Cine Asia) takes the bold step of exploring the man behind the myth. Starting with his birth in San Francisco in November 1940 (his father was a celebrated Cantonese opera star who toured the world), the film follows Bruce’s childhood in post-war Hong Kong where violent gang rivalries were an everyday occurrence.

Produced by Robert Lee, Bruce’s younger brother, and inspired by his own first-hand experience, Young Bruce Lee is essentially an overtly sentimental TV-movie-esque biopic that lacks the kind of thrills and spills witnessed in Lee’s iconic movies. Lee’s affluent, well-adjusted childhood offers slim pickings for the writers, and the movie doesn’t really progress into particularly interesting territory until it approaches its conclusion.

To the film’s credit, it belatedly picks up the pace in the final half an hour, examining Lee’s fierce rivalry with boxer Charlie Owen (Alex Yen) and his subsequent confrontation with vicious local drug dealers – which eventually leads him to move back to the United States, where he achieves the fame and fortune he always craved.

Unfortunately, these scenes come too little too late, and the battle has already been lost by that point. Furthermore, if the uneven pace of the film isn’t bad enough, leading man Aarif Rahman is weirdly smug as the teenaged Bruce Lee, and his grinning presence detracts from the film’s grittier moments. Disappointing.