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Capsule reviews: 'The Mechanic,' 'The Rite'

The Associated Press, Thursday, January 27, 2011, 3:31am (PST)

Capsule reviews of films opening this week:

"The Mechanic" — It's probably blasphemy to even think this, much less say it out loud, but here goes: This remake starring Jason Statham is better than the 1972 original starring Charles Bronson — and Statham is better in the lead role than Bronson was. Now, "The Mechanic" may not have been one of Bronson's stronger films during this era but it has achieved a certain following among genre fans. In retrospect it was a bit languid, it meandered here and there with its groovy vibe — although it did feature a breathtakingly wordless, 15-minute opening as Bronson's assassin character laid out the works for an elaborate kill in a seedy, downtown Los Angeles apartment building. That's the whole point of both films: The hit men at the center of them pull off assassinations that don't look like assassinations. Both function in a world where morals and rules don't seem to apply, where law enforcement is practically nonexistent and the relationship between a hit man and his mentor is meant to seem as touching as the one between a father and son. Director Simon West ("Con Air") and screenwriter Richard Wenk have taken those core concepts from Lewis John Carlino's original script, moved the action to steamy New Orleans and pumped out a movie that's slicker and sleeker, leaner and meaner — not in an idiotic way, but rather to reflect the actor and the times. R for strong brutal violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity. Running time: 92 minutes. Three stars out of four.

— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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"The Rite" — Anthony Hopkins classes this up, as you can imagine he would in almost every situation. But even his otherworldly powers can only make this overly familiar demonic possession thriller engaging for so long. Despite the ads that would suggest otherwise, Hopkins is a supporting player here. The center of the film is Colin O'Donoghue, making his confident, impressive feature debut as Michael Kovak, an aspiring Catholic priest suffering a spiritual crisis. Following his mother's death, Michael joined his father (Rutger Hauer) in the family mortuary business. Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom ("Evil," "1408") details the painstaking process of cleaning and preparing a body for a funeral with precise, clear-eyed detail, which makes it seem even creepier. Still, Michael is obviously a caring and conscientious young man, and it makes sense that he'd be interested in tending to others through the church. Trouble is, he's not sure what he believes. Michael Petroni's script, "suggested by" a novel that was "inspired by" actual events, is surprisingly reasonable and even-tempered with its discussions about the nature of faith. For a while, it is neither hyperbolic nor preachy, but open to all possibilities and levels of devotion — or lack thereof. All of this intelligent setup, as well as the moody, atmospheric way Hafstrom takes advantage of locations in Rome and Budapest, make the over-the-top climax feel like even more of a letdown. PG-13 for disturbing thematic material, violence, frightening images and language including sexual references. Running time: 113 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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