Monday, July 1, 2013

"Safe" (2012)

Starring Jason Statham, Chris Sarandon and Catherine Chan
Written and directed by Boaz Yakin
Rated R - Violence, strong language
Running Time: 95 Minutes

Luke Wright (Jason Statham) is a disgraced New York cop and cage fighter expected to take a fall in his latest bout. Instead, he trounces his opponent, infuriating the mob bosses who were set to make a great deal of money on this fight. Soon after, mob enforcers murder Luke's wife in retaliation. Luke loses everything and wanders the streets, a homeless drunk.

A year later, Luke crosses paths with Mei (Catherine Chan) a young girl with a gift for numbers. She can instantly memorize and recall anything she sees, and has been used by the Chinese mafia in their illegal gambling operations in the United States. With Mei, there is no need for records or a paper trail of their activities. When the Russian mafia ambushes Mei's Chinese captors, she escapes and finds a reluctant protector in Luke. Wanted by the Russian and Chinese mafias, as well as the corrupt cops (and Luke's former colleagues), Luke vows to keep Mei safe and free her from a life of slavery and crime.

It's tough sometimes to review movies like "Safe," movies you've seen a zillion times over and over. Jason Statham has built a reliable brand for himself over the last decade, appearing in more similarly-themed and made movies than I can count. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing. If you enjoy Jason Statham's movies, and many people do, then there's no real reason to not watch the next one that comes around. But, ironically, there's also something very, well, "safe" about his career.

So while "Safe" is like many other Statham movies in that it's not bad by any stretch, there's also nothing really great about it to set it apart from any of his others. It has the requisite badassery and martial arts, Statham himself doing his usual scowl'n'growl, and that's really it. If that's your cup of tea, then you'll find enjoyment here. If you're looking for Statham to branch out in any fashion, then you might as well just skip it. Conceptually, it's fairly ludicrous that after a year of hard drinking and living on the streets, Luke is still in incredible fighting form and healthy enough to kick all this ass. The story asks us to follow Luke's emotional redemption protecting Mei, glossing over the idea that he should also have any kind of a physical one.

"Safe" has several cool action sequences, which is really what makes the whole thing worthwhile since the plot is simultaneously jumbled and formulaic. You've seen this all before, with vicious mobsters, crooked cops, prodigy children, and so on and so forth. It moves along at a brisk pace, thankfully, since a story this dull would probably be a death-knell if the movie were any longer than it is. Things are convoluted enough with the two mobs after Mei for their own reasons, but the movie throws an extra wrench in the works by including both in a vast conspiracy involving crooked police and politicians. It seems unnecessary and really threatens to bog things down.

But no, "Safe" moves quickly from fight scene to shootout to chase to fight scene in a kind of no-nonsense manner that makes "Safe" fairly easy to digest. The standout sequences in my mind are a hotel shootout and a short bit in which Luke cold-cocks a couple of cops and steals their car, intriguingly done in a long take. There's no lack of opportunity here for Statham to show off the moves that have made him so popular, mowing through armies of Russian and Chinese henchmen here.

So "Safe" ends up being a competent but unremarkable little action film. For fans of Statham, it's exactly what you expect so go forth and enjoy. It's easy, quick Saturday afternoon fare.