Jason Statham is, without question, one of the most appealing action stars to come along in years. Could you just imagine what would happen if he were paired with a really sharp script?
Well, don't exhale yet, because 'Safe' isn't quite that movie. But as far as a dopey, far-fetched clothesline that striking action sequences and moments of general badassery can be clipped, 'Safe' can stand securely alongside 'Crank' and 'Transporter 2' as one of Statham's more enjoyable works.
Statham plays a palooka MMA star who runs afoul of the Russian mob. They kill his pregnant wife but keep him alive, warning him that if he forms any friendships whatsoever those people will end up dead. Surely they can't be everywhere at once, though, right, so it wouldn't be so bad to be nice to this decrepit man at the homeless shelter and OHMYGOD they came and killed him as he slept. The Russian mob sucks!
Statham's sad existence eventually intersects with that of Mei, a young Chinese girl with a savant-like gift for memorizing numbers. She's being held by evil James Hong (Google him and check out his face – I'll wait for you to say “that guy!”) who uses her steel trap mind to save on pencil and paper costs. Soon she's caught in the middle of an intra-crime family war, with corrupt politicians and cops pitching in as well. Luckily Jason Statham and his driving, shooting and face-smashing skills are there to help her find her way to safety.
The big climax leads to the contents of a giant safe which, yes, means that this is a Jason Statham movie whose title dares to have multiple meanings. The writer and director is Boaz Yakin, whose first two films 'Fresh' and 'A Price Above Rubies' in the 1990s signaled him as a major talent. Then his output started heading downhill, reaching a nadir with the screenplay to 'Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.' I'd hardly call 'Safe' a return to form, but it is at least an enjoyable way to spend two hours.
'Safe' is at its best when it is reveling in the evil mustache-twirling of the various villains. It's like a Rainbow Coalition of mafias, and things get really fun when Chris Sarandon shows up as the mayor.
'Safe' is also one of the better New York action movies to come around in a while. Not all of it is shot on location (those Chinatown clubs simply don't exist anywhere other than gigantic sound stages) but enough of it is evident to give 'Safe' an edge of verisimilitude that is sorely lacking in the average late night cable shoot 'em up.
Indeed, there is one shot in particular that, I feel, should be included in every future montage showing off the Big Apple as the world's finest backlot. It comes after Statham decides to jump onto the back of a Manhattan-bound train (the B or the D) and, discovering the rear door is locked, must climb to the top of the train and walk to the next entrance. He pulls himself up just as the train roars onto the Manhattan Bridge and the camera pulls back to reveal the downtown skyline just as the sun is twinkling. Talk about timing!
For better or worse 'Safe' has some plot-twists that are absolutely preposterous, but restraint is hardly the name of the game for this sort of thing. 'Safe' is a ridiculous movie, but if you are looking for something with some action that isn't completely devoid of some wit, this is surely a safe bet.
Jordan Hoffman was the movies editor at Hearst Digital’s UGO for four years and currently contributes to SlashFilm, MTV’s NextMovie and StarTrek.com. He’s made two marginally successful independent movies, is a member of the New York Film Critics Online and was named IFC’s Ultimate Film Fanatic of the NorthEast in 2004. Follow him on Twitter at @JHoffman6.