I like Jason Statham, it’s no secret. I’ve championed the Crank movies enough, particularly Crank 2, for their unique style and near comic book bending of reality. Even the Transporter movies have their action genre delights. However, Safe, even with its’ old school action set up and play, doesn’t have the inventiveness or even the chops of director team Neveldine and Taylor to save it.
In Safe, Jason Statham plays Luke Wright, an ex-cage fighter, ex-cop, that gets mixed up in a somewhat convoluted situation that ultimately boils down to trying to protect a young Chinese girl with a genius IQ that has in her memory a sequence of numbers that the Triad wants, the Russian mob wants, and even a group of dirty cops want. It’s basically Jason Statham versus everybody else. Those are the kind of odds we like with Statham.
The movie opens in the present, and then a series of flashbacks that get us up to speed on what’s going on. If you aren’t paying attention, you’ll be confused. Really. These flashbacks show you how the girl, Mei, got stuck in the situation she’s in, how Luke became a homeless guy not able to make any human connections, and why he’s so good at kicking ass.
There’s a lot to work out at first, obviously. This young girl, Mei, played admirably by Catherine Chan, is essentially abducted by the Triad and sent to New York to count profits in the many businesses owned by the Triad boss, played by the legendary James Hong. He gives her a number to memorize, and is supposed to be given a second number, both of which will lead to lots of money. But then the Russian mob grabs her. They want the numbers, too. Then, it turns out that Luke used to be a cop and he narked on some of them, and THEY want the numbers, too. So everyone wants this girl Mei, and Luke, with nothing to lose, protects her by doing a lot of awesome bone-crunching hand to hand combat and firing of hand guns, while divising a scheme to screw everyone over and get away scott free.
Yeah, there is some great action in Safe, even though some of it is shot too close, but not as bad as usual. But most of the trouble in this is that a lot of that action takes place in New York City, and it’s amazing how many open streets there are for the car chases to move freely. And in a post 9-11 world, it’s amazing how little responses there are to massive amounts of gun fire in restaurants. But I guess we aren’t meant to care, it IS a Jason Statham action film, after all. It’s definitely an over-the-top action film a-la the 80’s or 90’s. Plot holes be damned! Let’s just enjoy the mayhem! Smash, Bang, Pow! Why bother making sense?
There is also plenty of average or worse writing in Safe. Not only do thing move so fast that the plot holes whizz by ALMOST unnoticed, but the Luke character has his own to deal with. Certain decisions don’t entirely seem logical, but then as long s he’s racking up the body count, who’s really going to wag their finger at such inconsistencies? Oh, and let’s not overlook the fairly blatant uses of criminal and NYC police racial stereotypes running amok in this film. You’ll hear your fair share of racial epithets. Apparently all NYC cops on the take are like that, according to Boaz Yakin who wrote and directed this. Safe to say he’s a better director than writer. I guess. Maybe.
Frankly, this film would be utterly pointless without Jason Statham, who manages to be watchable and even throws out the witty one-liners while killing bad guys. And he does it with considerably less cheese than Schwarzenegger or Bruce Willis ever did. The acting here is all decent, with a who’s who of “hey, I know that guy” supporting cast. Chris Sarandon as the Mayor, Robert John Burke as one of the cops, and Anson Mount as the mayor’s shady bag man that shares a past with Luke.
Much as I like Jason Statham, I can’t go much over 2 kittenhands here. Safe just isn’t that great. And Statham is the lynchpin – take him out of this and it’s not much even less. Maybe catch it on DVD later if you’re a fan of his.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, still hoping for Crank 3.