Depressing though it might be to action fans, there is only one truly bankable tough guy left who can prop up his own picture, and that man is Jason Statham. Thankfully, teaming with eclectic director Boaz Yakin – whose CV ranges from inspirational sports film (Remember the Titans) to cutesy comedy (Uptown Girls) – proved a wise choice, for Safe is one of The Stath’s more solidly entertaining vehicles for quite some time.
Shake the fact that the plot is shamelessly similar to Bruce Willis’ mediocre action thriller Mercury Rising, and there is plenty to enjoy here. Statham plays Luke Wright, a suicidal former NYPD cop who saves a 12-year old Chinese math whizz, Mei (Catherine Chan), whose gift for remembering numbers is being exploited to help the Triads’ bank roll. After rescuing her, Wright then has to fend off not only the Triads, but the Russian Mafia and corrupt cops in order to keep them both – ahem – safe.
Safe might be marketed as a brainlessly hardcore actioner, but there is a little more nuance and deftness of craft here than one would care to anticipate. First and foremost, it is director Yakin, stylishly cutting through needless exposition and transitioning from scene-to-scene with admirable expedience. Action scenes, meanwhile, are not only plentiful but muscular; handheld camerawork renders close-quarters combat intense yet never incoherent, and the use of long takes makes for more than a few breathless moments.
It would have been easy for the action to become repetitive, but Yakin places uncommon emphasis on both character and premise; the set-up, largely bereft of any set-pieces, is long but worth it, because we actually learn who Wright and Mei are as people. Statham brings unexpected gravitas to his role, shedding angry tears when his pregnant wife is mercilessly slaughtered in a flashback sequence, yet remains respectably steely because the film doesn’t indulge its sentiment too much.
Indeed, it is a bizarre babysitting assignment for the Crank star, yet not one which goes the Mr Nanny or Tooth Fairy route, a career path which has at some point plagued just about every action star with the exception of Statham. Chan also deserves praise as the unlucky genius child; her chemistry with Statham is palpable yet never exaggerated or milked to crass emotional ends. Rather, it creates a few moments of much-needed levity and humanity between all the ultra-violence.
And boy, do Yakin and Statham deliver on the action front; Statham shoots his way across New York, wiping out roughly half the population of China as he does so. Most impressive is that, despite racking up a hefty body count, the Stath still manages to dispatch the goons in a variety of interesting and entertainingly brutal ways, leaping around like Superman, adapting forks, plates and tables as weapons, and splattering his foes in broad daylight without as much as a second thought. The highlight, an assault on the Triads in a crowded nightclub, is a veritable shooting gallery; enjoyable to the last drop because of Statham’s physical prowess and the visceral, dynamic direction.
Granted, Safe is about as far from original as you get; at least it improves significantly upon the Willis film it lifts so liberally from, and is certainly competent – even impressive – as a work of its genre. There is more nuance to the occasionally confusing plot than most would dare ask for, yet with so many lazy, cookie-cutter actioners doing the rounds, it is refreshing to find something so workmanlike and eager to please its target audience as this.
Fans of The Stath will find themselves very much at home with this well-acted, stylishly-shot actioner which boasts more depth than one would reasonably expect.
Safe is in UK cinemas from today.