“The Mechanic” opens with a stylish, clever and ruthlessly executed assassination. Jason Statham efficiently drowns a millionaire in his own swimming pool, and then escapes unnoticed by jumping off a bridge and hitching a ride behind a garbage barge. This scene is somewhere between the Bourne movies and “The American,” and as such, sets a pretty high standard for “The Mechanic;” it communicated that this is going not going to be your run of the mill shoot ’em up action flick.
Sadly, that opening sequence is the best scene in “The Mechanic,” and the rest of the film’s action sequences can’t live up to it, but it tries at least for a while. Jason Statham is a relentlessly grim assassin whose next target is his own handler (Donald Sutherland) who apparently double-crossed the organization they both work for. Racked with guilt, Statham takes Sutherland’s angry, ne’er-do-well son (Ben Foster) under his wing and trains him in the assassin’s trade. Foster is a good foil for the ever-serious Statham; he kills people because it’s fun and he’s angry, though he doesn’t seem disciplined enough to really be Statham’s protege. I like Foster more and more as an actor; he brings a lot of energy and emotion to the screen in just about everything I’ve seen him in.
Director Simon West (who doesn’t have the greatest resume) seems intent on showing audiences and peers alike that he’s fearless; there’s plenty of sex and violence in “The Mechanic,” and an awful lot of it (especially the sex scenes starring Mini Andien) are unnecessary. Foster’s first job is to kill a hulking gay rival hit man; Statham says to make it clean, but he decides to make it as dirty as he possibly can, eventually killing the man with a fireplace poker, but only after breaking every pane of glass in one of those ridiculous glass-walled houses that only exist in the movies and a few neighborhoods outside of Los Angeles. The scene is gruesome and ridiculous, but still effectively entertaining.
“The Mechanic” really starts to fall apart, though, when Statham and Foster start working together. Their jobs just don’t feel very interesting, or well-written; they lack the style and smarts of that opening scene. And then, of course, Statham figures out that he was double-crossed, and now has to kill his boss, and Foster figures out who killed his father, and the whole thing devolves into While You Were Sleeping for Assassins; one good conversation would fix all the movies problems, but we’re going to waste a lot of ammo and blow things up instead.
“The Mechanic” started out as a promising action flick, remained sufficiently entertaining at least halfway through, but just got worse and worse as it went along, ending with a ridiculous, predictable, tried “I Killed You Back!” scene that is enormously unsatisfying, and worlds away from the smart, sharp, stylish scene that opened the film. It’s weird to watch a film grow progressively worse as it goes along; it feels like the screenwriter and director just lost interest in the material, and, to be frank, so did I.