Video Verdict: ‘The Mechanic,’ ‘The Rite’

Anthony Hopkins stars as Father Lucas in the supernatural thriller “The Rite.”

A horror film starring Anthony Hopkins and an action flick featuring Jason Statham and Ben Foster anchor this week’s home video releases.

The Mechanic

3 stars (out of four)
Rated R for strong brutal violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity
Sony
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Simon West made an impressive feature film directing debut with 1997’s “Con Air,” but his follow-up films – including “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” and the 2006 remake of “When a Stranger Calls” – haven’t been so interesting.

Fortunately, West seems to have things back on track with his update of the 1972 Charles Bronson movie “The Mechanic.” The film isn’t inventive (it is a remake after all) but it is thoroughly entertaining. And, since it clocks in at a brisk 93 minutes, there’s barely time to question the often-sketchy motivations of lead character Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham).

Bishop is a world-class hit man, the sort who can sneak into a building, take out his target with brutal efficiency, then make the whole thing look like an accident. Viewers learn this thanks to an excellent opening sequence and a brief voiceover.

As the film moves along, an interesting plot twist puts Bishop in the company of Steve McKenna (Ben Foster), a young man hungry to learn the assassin’s trade. Because Bishop had a connection to McKenna’s father, he takes the fledgling killer under his wing, and the two become a dangerous pair.

Statham and Foster have chemistry, and they look great in the movie’s well-staged action scenes. “The Mechanic” does have flaws, most notably the fact that none of the character relationships are well fleshed out. Viewers are led to believe that Bishop is motivated, at least partially, by emotion, yet his actions speak differently. Still, since this is a hit man movie and because the real joy is in watching Bishop carefully set his traps, it’s easy to excuse the missing subtleties.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes and a featurette on the action sequences.

The Rite

2 stars
Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material, violence, frightening images and language including sexual references
New Line
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

The tricky thing about making an exorcism movie is filmmakers can’t avoid comparison to the predecessors, and there have been some good ones. The granddaddy, of course, is William Friedkin’s 1973 classic “The Exorcist.” The good news is that there is room for creative artists to put their mark on this ever-expanding genre, as director Daniel Stamm did with his mock documentary “The Last Exorcism.” Sadly, “The Rite” is less inventive, and it riffs on the same tired exorcism clichés that have dominated movies for decades.

At the center of the action is Michael Kovak (Collin O’Donoghue), a seminary student who has lost his faith. Just as he is about to abandon his ambition of becoming a priest, he is asked to travel to Italy and study exorcism at the Vatican. Reluctantly, he accepts and while there, he is introduced to Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), an aging priest with vast supernatural experience. Father Lucas draws Michael – doubts and all – into his world, and the things the young man sees defy a worldly explanation … and become increasingly frightening.

The problem with “The Rite” is that nothing in the film is particularly surprising. There are scenes where Father Lucas and Michael struggle with characters seemingly possessed by demons, but these sequences are nearly identical to those from a half dozen other exorcism flicks. Adding to the been-there-done-that nature of the project is Michael’s ongoing struggle with faith. This plot line has also been dealt with in other films – particularly skillfully in writer-director M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs” – and director Mikael Hafstrom does nothing to set “The Rite” apart.

That leaves moviegoers with little more than a solid cast (Hopkins and O’Donoghue are good) going through the same old boring motions.

Standard DVD extras are limited to about 13 minutes of deleted scenes. The Blu-ray release includes those plus an alternate ending and a short feature on the Vatican-ordained exorcist who inspired the film.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“The Roommate”: Thriller starring Minka Kelly as a college freshman whose life begins to unravel when she discovers that her roommate (Leighton Meester) is unhinged and obsessed with her. The film was almost universally panned when released into theaters. Cam Gigandet also stars. Directed by Christian E. Christiansen.

“Thor – Tales of Asgard”: With the live-action “Thor” movie raking in money at the box office, Lionsgate is releasing this animated, direct-to-video feature from Marvel Comics. It is set during Thor’s youth and follows him, his brother Loki and their friends on a dangerous quest for the Lost Sword of Surtur.

“The Other Woman”: Film adaptation of writer Ayelet Waldman’s novel “Love and Other Impossible Pursuits.” Natalie Portman stars as a young lawyer who begins a relationship with her boss (Scott Cohen), leading him to divorce his wife (Lisa Kudrow) and marry her. Directed by Don Roos.

“Diabolique”: Criterion Collection release of director Henri-Georges Clouzet’s 1955 thriller about a woman (Vera Clouzot) who conspires to kill her oppressive husband with the help of his mistress (Simone Signoret). The home video release features a new digital restoration of the movie and several extra features, including commentary on selected scenes by French film scholar Kelly Conway. Presented in French with English subtitles.

“Pale Flower”: Director Masahiro Shinoda’s 1964 crime film focuses on a Japanese gangster who begins a self-destructive relationship with an attractive gambling addict. Like “Diabolique,” this title is being released by the Criterion Collection, and it sports a new high-definition transfer. Presented in Japanese with English subtitles.

“Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! Season Cinco”: Fifth season of the Cartoon Network sketch comedy show starring Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim. Episodes includes appearances by Zach Galifianakis, LeVar Burton and Rainn Wilson.

“Shoeshine”: Italian director Vittorio De Sica’s 1946 drama about two shoeshine boys living in post-World War II Rome. When they get duped into participating in a criminal act, both boys go to prison, and this sends them on a downward spiral. The film was given an honorary Academy Award for best foreign language film. Presented in Italian with English subtitles.

“South Riding”: Video release of the BBC’s three-part miniseries based on Winifred Holtby’s “South Riding” novel. The story centers on a young woman (Anna Maxwell Martin) running a high school for girls in recession-addled, post-World War I England. Directed by Diarmuid Lawrence from a screenplay by Andrew Davies.

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

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