Safe Review: Kicking Ass and Taking Hearts
Make no mistake, the bloke knows his own strengths and works his ridiculous penchant for mindless, escapist action flicks. That's what his fans want. Safe plays out like 1970s and 1980s action goodness reincarnated, and it does so in a very unapologetic manner, albeit slightly reigned in with a heart to boot. It's a strange compromise but welcome in terms of shaping Statham's oeuvre. However, there's still plenty of R-rated goodness to be found in Safe, for director and writer Boaz Yakin evokes shades of John Woo throughout the movie. He puts his leading man in motion to singlehandedly kick the asses of the Chinese, the Russians, and the dirty NYPD, and it's a pretty magnificent thrill ride to behold.
Statham has virtually cornered the market on one-man badassery lately. Other than him, the closest thing that Hollywood conceivably has to a Schwarzenegger or a Stallone (or even a Bronson or an Eastwood) is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who has merrily entrenched himself within the bullshit realms of mainstream blockbuster films and kiddie flicks. So here we have our old, faithful standby, Jason Statham, stepping through the hoops of The Professional with a bit of Man on Fire mixed in for good measure. At the same time, this is the roughly the same grade of badassery that Statham accomplished in Death Race, The Mechanic, and Transporter but, here, he manages to hit a fever pitch that's not quite as frenetic as that of the Crank movies. Actually, Safe really is a bit safer than one would expect, but it's also visceral as well. The story starts off with a bit of a slow burn because it takes a full half hour before the two main characters even meet. Strangely enough for an action movie, the story takes great care to establish the dire circumstances of both characters before all hell breaks loose. It's a welcome change and gives Statham time to flex his acting skills instead of just pounding the shit out of bad guys, but rest assured that he gets around to doing that too.
The setting of this movie is New York City, but Safe gets a little bit Commando in the sense of Luke's wanton disregard for life in the face of saving one little girl from lots of (and I mean lots of) bad dudes. The story itself isn't complicated -- a down-on-his luck cage fighter, Luke Wright (Statham), decides not to throw a fight, which pisses off the Russians who put money on his opponent and, in retaliation, take out Luke's lovely (and pregnant) bride. As a result, Luke grows suicidal and decides to end it all, but then fate intervenes in the form of a young girl named Mei (Catherine Chan), who is running from the same thugs that ruined Luke's own life. Apparently, Mei has a photographic memory that as been embedded with a security code that these guys so desperately need to uncover a fortune, and the girl's overlords have (naturally) programmed her for their own safety (and to stay off the grid) without any commonsensical regard to how vulnerable their information is while residing within a lone, defenseless child. This is where the movie gets a little bit sketchy but not so much that a hefty suspension of disbelief is required for those who enjoy the Statham for what he does: kick ass while firing off one-liners.
Manhattan also functions as an unexpected character in this movie. As anyone who's visited the city since the days of Rudy Giuliani can attest, the city is currently quite sanitized in comparison to the decades towards which this movie cinematically alludes. So here, the cinematography compensates for this fact through tight shots and creative framing to make the city appear seedier than it really is as present. The tactic makes the film seem much darker than it otherwise would and causes the undercurrent of organized crime (again, of the Russian, Chinese, and NYPD variety) running throughout to seem more believable. Statham kicks ass on the subway, during a car chase, in a restaurant, and in a nightclub, and he will not stop until he obliterates all those who seek to capture young Mei for their own ends. It's not senseless violence though, for this is a cathartic story of redemption and revenge, and it's full of dirty cops and politicians galore. Mostly, Safe is a hell of a fun movie to witness. Any fan of Statham will bloody love it.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at Celebitchy.