Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
Safe is ridiculous.
How you choose to interpret that, of course, depends entirely on where you fall on the Jason Statham scale: If you love to watch the Crank and Transporter star use any excuse, however narratively unwieldy, to beat up on dudes while wearing the shit out of an expertly tailored suit, buy yourself a ticket. Perhaps you already have. But if you’re more interested in a well-acted, cerebral action film with fresh plot points, you may want to skip this one.
Directed by Boaz Yakin (Remember the Titans), the film follows Statham’s Luke Wright, an ex-cop and struggling cage fighter — we’re treated to exactly one shot of him, shirtless, in the ring, and this is the most we hear of the subject — who gets mixed up in a bet gone bad and finds himself thrown between the Triads (the New York City branch of the Chinese criminal organization), the Russian mob and a bunch of corrupt cops. At the center of the trio of baddies is a brilliant young girl named Mei (Catherine Chan) with a penchant for remembering numbers. Kidnapped by the Triads and brought to New York, she’s essentially a hostage, and a major pawn in a heist.
Luke eventually crosses paths with Mei, and, feeling an uncanny urge to protect her, turns the tables and creates a one-dude-and-a-little-girl-against-the-world scenario rife with throat-punching, bar brawls, subway shootouts and car chases.
For what it’s worth, Statham showcases his more-than-adept physicality in ways that help skirt the film across the “bad” line to “awesomely bad.” He goes airborne over a bar in pursuit of a bad guy; he leaps on top of, in between, and off of a moving subway train; he commandeers numerous vehicles, running people over and driving like a madman with one hand while shooting with the other. And, all the while, he maintains the Statham Smolder: that cool-as-a-cucumber, cocky, charismatic demeanor his fans have come to love. No matter that he can’t act (nor can anyone else in the film; a scene where Luke gets beat up by a circle of his ex-cop associates is an exercise in some of the worst line reading I’ve ever seen); he makes up for it in sex appeal. He owns the movie. He’s expected to.
Despite the “set-‘em-up-and-knock-‘em-down” plot — frankly, the revolving door of “oh, shit, now this guy is corrupt” character arcs is laughable at best — some of the camerawork is surprisingly inspired. The aforementioned setup on a moving subway train is pretty realistic and immersive, and numerous car chases include some interesting stylistic choices — over-the-hood shots and action detailed in rear view mirrors. And that’s nothing compared to the fact that punches are used as scene transitions. It’s just that kind of movie.
So if you’re looking for something in the Statham wheelhouse, Safe delivers. But if you have zero patience for wooden acting and paper-thin plot, I suggest you look elsewhere for your action fare.
Safe opens today nationwide.