Director: Boaz Yakin
There are moments of bliss in Safe. A subway-set brawl, save for the shoddy visual-effects rendering required when Jason Statham‘s Luke Wright is forced to climb aboard the fleeting train, comes to mind for its giddy acceptance of the film’s one true right to existence: the sheer joy of watching Statham pummel some mobsters to a pulp and spout off a host of hammy one-liners while doing so. Seriously, with all the redundant drivel that’s out there, you could do a whole lot worse than basking in the humorous delight of Statham’s no-nonsense intensity.
Problem is, Boaz Yakin, the film’s writer-director, appears to be doing everything in his power to keep these instances of Statham mayhem as few and far between as possible. He infuses the story with a second main character, 12-year-old Mei (Catherine Chan), which would be less of an obstacle if the structural ploy of the first half-hour didn’t separate the central duo. As it stands, there are at least three jumps in time during the film’s first handful of scenes, and as charmingly innocent a job as the young Chan does in the role, I couldn’t keep myself from mentally urging the film to cut back to Statham every time his hooded awesomeness took a back seat.
To be fair, though, the reason for that probably had slightly less to do with Statham himself than it did with the absolute banality of the plot constructed around this poor little girl. Here’s the brief rundown: Mei is a wiz-kid, a math prodigy at the top of the pecking order who’s been handpicked by ruthless gangsters to memorize their transactions and financial information so that they’re saved the burden of worrying about their actions being documented in print.
Well, the problem with this scheme is that these same people are also the ones who ruined Luke Wright’s life, brutally transforming him from an above-water cage-fighter to a homeless wanderer without a family. You can’t cruelly manipulate an innocent girl’s life and piss off Jason Statham and expect to come out of the tunnel unscathed. But these are ambitious gangsters, I guess, and their misplaced moxie leads to a Statham-led rampage that quickly escalates into full-blown anarchy, prompting the entrance of the New York City Mayor Tremello (Chris Sarandon, drinking his fair share of whiskey, because that’s what all mayors do when their city’s existence is being toyed with).
The disappointing familiar plotting aside, Yakin, a guy who originated in an indie-film background (Fresh, A Price Above Rubies), occasionally lets his voice be heard amidst the generic chaos of bleeding bodies and flying cars, and it’s a welcome surprise that most of these moments align quite well with a subtle expansion of what we’ve seen from Statham’s repertoire. After a slew of dirty Russian thugs do away with Luke’s wife, there’s a surprising moment when the camera, in one shot, steadily and patiently moves in on Statham until a single tear drops down his face. No fighting, no swinging of arms, no macho grunting – just a Jason Statham tear. And it works just fine.
The rest of the highlights have mostly to do with the dynamic that develops between Statham and Chan, which is sweetly comic when allowed to be. The opening third of Safe is too much of a tedious grind and the ensuing action mostly too requisite to lift the film in any significant way above its obvious commercial bent, but there are a couple points within its messy construction where it breaths rather pleasantly. Unfortunately they aren’t enough to merit anything substantial.
Safe hits wide release on Friday, April 27th.
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