Review: Statham & Yakin in 'Safe' Deliver Worthwhile, B-Level Action
by Jeremy Kirk
April 27, 2012
Sadly, they went with that terrible title. A movie with the flimsiest of plots that takes the most basic of turns needs something extra to keep eyeballs firmly on the big screen. It's a good thing Jason Statham doesn't need much story to deliver convincing punches and deadly knees to the face. It's all him at work in Safe, the latest film written and directed by Boaz Yakin. The filmmaker relies on one element to keep his film this engrossing, hard-hitting action and Statham at the center of all of it. The action works in Safe, little else does, and, when the credits roll, that's all that matters. It's hard to remember plot holes when you've just had your ass kicked, especially by Jason Statham. Safe doesn't necessarily do that, but it comes damn close.
Statham plays Luke Wright, an ex-cop now turned cage fighter who might be nearing the end of that rope, too. After a fixed fight doesn't go as planned, Wright finds himself on the wrong side of the Russian Mafia. They take everything of value from him, his family included, and vow to make his life a living Hell. No or else. Just the vow of a living Hell. Wright begins walking the city in an attempt to either lose himself or find some sense of vengeance.
In another part of the city, we find Mei, a 12-year-old girl played by Catherine Chan who has a special gift. Mei has a way with numbers, cracking codes, and generally reordering the universe in her head while walking down the sidewalk. The Triads have her, the Russians want her, and once she and Wright cross paths, the city basically implodes under the weight of spent bullet casings.
And that's what Safe does best. The story, thin but convoluted as it is, needs someone like Yakin in the director's chair and someone like Statham as the biggest head on the poster to satisfactorily make it work. Yakin isn't exactly known for his action stylings unless you count the severely intense football scene in Remember the Titans. However, he comes off like a student of the best action directors, filling the screen with some suspenseful and impressive sequences that keep the ball on this field moving yards forward. Fast-paced chases both on foot and in vehicles. Squibs going off left and right sending flecks of the set hurtling towards the actors. The theory that collateral damage in action movies makes it all the more realistic. He isn't too keen on crafting inventive set pieces or chases, but the one thing keeping them interesting is how effectively R-rated and energetic they are. At least after the first act.
The first 30 minutes or so of Safe border on the absurdly dull, establishing all sides in this battle royale through the city. We're introduced to Mei first, then we flashback to an hour earlier, then we flashback again to a year earlier. Don't blink, or you'll miss the cards that say this. We don't spend a lot of time in "…ago", but it doesn't help matters that it's right at the beginning. Yakin, who wrote and directed Safe, is more concerned with establishing his story and character than the charged atmosphere he brings in the execution.
It isn't long before we're introduced to Statham's Wright, the main course of this feast and the top reason, above Yakin's notable direction, why Safe works so well. Shaved head, five o'clock shadow, and a general scowl that looks like it could punch you itself, Statham's signature look prompts intensity in any scene, most of them found inside some of the best action movies of the last ten years. He's allowed to work the acting chops here in the quieter moments, the moments when Wright and Mei stroke a bond that's more weighty than simply protector/protected. Yakin's lines are mostly goofy and drab, even though both actors do as well as they can.
But those won't be the moments in Safe you remember. They aren't meant to be the moments you remember. That's why it's so forgivable to have lackluster screenwriter and a general sense that the film brings nothing new to the action table. Everything Safe sets out to do in the area of aggressive action, it does. With performances from actors like Robert John Burke, Chris Sarandon, and James Hong - all playing villains, by the way - the film takes on a campy, B-grade tone that only aids in how entertaining it is. By the films conclusion, Wright has left a lot of cold bodies in his wake, and another Jason Statham action vehicle has just driven through the theater. It's an enjoyable bit of destruction, and its star and director are the only reasons Safe is safe for action junkies at all. Those two are enough.
Jeremy's Rating: 7.5 out of 10