Simon West's remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson hit-man opus The Mechanic opens this Friday, and the filmmker hopes to grab an audience ready for an all-boy-action-thrill-ride, in what is otherwise, a relatively mellow month for movies.
We had the chance to sit down and talk with the director about the The Mechanic, and will have the full interview in the days to come. In the interim, our conversation yielded some updates on several of West's future projects.
The Mechanic arrives in an era in Hollywood that is dominated by remakes, reboots, adaptations of existing properties, and sequels (which are sometimes decades in the making) - so it was only natural, and in many ways expected, to inquire about West's plans to return to the film that really put him on the map as a director: Con Air.
As far as Con Air 2 is concerned, at the moment it's little more than a gestating daydream. In fact, the possibility for the film only came into West's consciousness during a series of interviews in which nearly every reporter asked about the possibility for the film. The director confessed that he'd"really only thought about it today." However, with several of the moving parts coming into in line, and the overwhelming studio passion for creating sequels of successful (and sometimes not so successful) films, a nagging journalist-inspired return of Cameron Poe is not that far out of the realm of possibility:
"Maybe I'll mention it to Nic and if we get enough people who want to do it...Because you've got to get Jerry Bruckheimer to want to do it, you've got to get Disney to want to do it...You know I haven't thought about it for a long time, because I can't watch my films for at least five to six years after I've made them, because you've just lived them and in the editing you've watched them hundreds and hundreds of times. So, it's been longer since Con Air and now I can watch it fondly, and remember it fondly, and also I'll be doing a film with Nic Cage next (Medallion) so its all sort of fresh in my mind."
Medallion, which begins production this April, taps into one the most viscerally satisfying sub-genres in action movies -- a dad (or dad figure) out to save or avenge his child. Taken and Man On Fire are both prime examples of dad kicking butt and taking names. This latest contribution to the field sees Nicolas Cage as a "master-thief" who must find his kidnapped daughter in a severly limited amount of time.
It seems that all the talk of Con Air 2 and re-teaming with Cage brought memories and desires to the forefront of West's mind:
"It's all made me think it would be great fun, and also with all those great actors you just wish you'd done more with each one. There wasn't time, because you've got so much pyrotechnics going on. I'd love to do it again, and have more fun with it."
Before fans can hope to see Con Air 2, West has several films already in the production pipeline (in addition to Medallion) that demand his attention.
RPM, the story of two friends using an underground racing circuit in Europe as a cover for an elaborate heist, has been in and out of production limbo for years - yet West has announced that the film is back on the front burner, and is actively in development. When asked about the casting for the film the director replied:
"Well funnily enough Nic Cage was interested in it a few years ago. I don't know if he's still interested – he's probably done three car movies since then, so he's probably over cars, though funnily enough we've been talking about doing it this week. You know every year a whole new crop of people mature into it, some people who were teenagers when we wrote it are now eligible to be a part of it."
Perhaps it was the surroundings and purpose of the day, but West named Ben Foster and Jason Statham as his current dream team for the two leads in the film.
"That would be fun, because having done this film with them, you sort of learn people. When you work with actors you need to sort of learn their personalities, you need to learn how to get the best out of them - so having that knowledge of them is the easiest way to work. I suppose that's why directors like to work with the same actors again and again – because you've gone through all that."
In response to a "knowing is half the battle" quip, West replied "Yes, exactly," and then upon reflection amended, "though sometimes once you know, you don't want to work with them again."
West Talks 3D
The film that Statham and Foster currently star in, The Mechanic, is a bit unique in that it is an action film which makes tremendous use of practical effects in lieu of falling back on an overindulgence in CGI. The film also feels like more of a methodical and thoughtful action film than what we might expect from West.
The director does not seem to have an absolutely defined style; each film feels like it exists as something unto itself in terms of the storytelling and filmmaking techniques, though they primarily dwell somewhere within the action-genre.
Given his penchant for variance, it is unsurprising that West also has several CGI heavy 3D films on his production schedule.
When asked about the attraction of working in 3D, West replied that:
"You know the thing I like is the ability to go to the places that you can't normally go. That's why the first half of Avatar is so magical to me, because there's no way that you could physically build that world in the same way. To float around in 3D on a new planet was really mesmerizing, so I definitely want to do 3D and CGI. I've got like three CGI films in my company at the moment. I'm going to direct one and produce two others."
West is directing Thunder Run, "a war movie, based on a book called Thunder Run by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer David Zucchino, who's coincidentally best friends with Mark Bowden."
Bowden is the author of the book Black Hawk Down, which of course was adapted into the most critically celebrated feature film that Simon West has produced.
As to why Thunder Run is uniquely suited to the heavy use of CGI, West explains:
"It's a tank battle in the Iraq war, which is a phenomenal story that you just couldn't physically shoot. There wouldn't be enough money in the world to shoot it so we can do it CGI and 3D with photo-realistic motion-capture. It's the only way to do it, because there would be no way to do it for real."
As to the latest 3D films that West is producing (his Night of the Living Dead: Origins 3D is currently in post-production):
"One is a Stan Lee project called "Savior", which is a character Stan Lee invented, and the other one is a period peace about saving an Alaskan town. It's about a dog sled that had to get through a massive storm in order to rescue the town."
We can expect production to move forward on these two projects "later this year," while Thunder Run is roughly "two movies away" on West's directing dance card. The fate of Con Air 2 is anyone's guess at the moment.
The Mechanic opens this Friday, January 28th.