Not for nothing has Jason Statham got a reputation as an action star; he’s been showcasing his fighting skills in films for years – more often than not as the ‘ordinary guy’ who somehow gets the job done – ranging from the good (The Transporter, Killer Elite) to the bad (Death Race) to the downright wild (the Crank series). Later this year, he will reunite with his fellow bad-asses in The Expendables 2, but until then New York is the backdrop for the latest round of his exploits in Safe, a crime thriller written and directed by Boaz Yakin (Remember the Titans). Unfortunately, the film does not afford itself enough smarts story-wise to accompany Statham’s very watchable brawn.
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The plot follows Mei, a 10 year old Chinese girl with a talent for numbers in addition to a photographic memory. Her skills put her on the radar of the triads, who kidnap Mei and bring her into their employ in New York. After memorizing a number code for the Triads, she gets snatched again – this time by Russian mobsters, who want the code for themselves – but she manages to escape. Also recognizing the girl’s value are corrupt cops, who join the hunt to find the elusive girl. Fortunately for Mei, the down-and-out Luke Wright (Statham) sees her being chased and decides to intervene.
Suffice to say, there are many villainous factions at play here. At times, this can be the film’s biggest weakness – with everybody double crossing, well, everybody – in their quest to extract the all important information from the girl. Nevertheless, the narrative does a good job of staying on task, never showing us more than we need to know; For instance, we never actually see Wright’s wife or Mei’s Mother even though these individuals are important to the main characters.
This makes the story very linear, and aside from Statham’s Luke Wright there is little character development, although the rest of the cast play their aforementioned one-note characters well enough. Not helping are the plot holes of Statham’s character. Some key decisions that Wright makes are never properly explained and they become all the more perplexing when we learn the truth about his past.
When Wright turns protector and we finally get to see the Statham we all know and love, it’s great to watch; the action is frenetic, with plenty of hard-hitting hand to hand encounters coupled with some impressive gun fights. Sandwiched in-between is a break-neck chase, which benefits much from some excellent cinematography. These scenes are made all the more satisfying when Statham sounds off one of his many funny one-liners, which will no doubt derive a few chuckles.
Young maths prodigy Mei (Catherine Chan) should probably be more afraid of this one-man fighting machine, but her character shares a few humorous moments with Wright. There are some scenes which could do with an infusion of more emotion, but by and large she proves a worthy foil.
“Any Last Words?” There’s little in the way of surprises here, but Safe serves as an entertaining thriller, with some well-done action beats. Fans of Statham should be satisfied.