Van Damme did it with Nowhere to Run back in 1993, Stallone started as a dramatic actor before Rambo and then went back to the drama with Over the Top in 87 and Copland in 1997. Bruce Willis once he established himself in the genre with Die Hard couldn’t wait to get back to dramatic acting. So now we come to Jason Statham who after ten years of kicking arse has decided to unleash his inner turmoil, but Safe isn’t actually a drama, it’s an action movie through and through and although it’s a massively flawed movie it does give us Jason Statham’s best performance so far and with an American accent too!
At the beginning of the film we meet two lost souls, Mei (Catherine Chan) is a young Chinese girl whose genius with numbers is spotted in school and is taken advantage of by the Triads and she is whisked to New York to work for them under the guise of them helping to keep her sick mother alive in her homeland. Luke Wright (Statham) is a homeless ex cage fighter and cop whose refusal to throw a fight led to the killing of his wife by the Russian mob. Both of these people go through the motions in New York City, not really living and just existing until Mei is forced to learn a code, a code that is wanted by both the Triads and the Russians and may hold the key to peace or war between the two factions.
A deal goes wrong and on the subway, Wright witnesses Mei fleeing for her life just as he is about to throw himself on the tracks. Something changes in the man and he picks himself up and dusts himself off and sees about saving Mei and killing a lot of mafia scum along the way. Wright learns of the code that Mei has memorised and its value whilst being pursued by the mob as well as his corrupt ex-cop buddies who want a piece of the action. It’s at the mid-point just as things are getting good where things fall apart in Safe.
The build-up is tremendous and as previously mentioned, Statham’s performance and the script behind the character are spot on. There is an exchange between a scumbag cop and Statham about his dead wife that goes something like this; Cop: “I never understood what you saw in that big old cow anyway” Statham: “It was her sense of humour I loved”. That’s not verbatim but you get the idea, what you are watching is a character where as played by Statham he wasn’t with some supermodel type, he was potentially with an overweight woman! Statham also takes several kickings and humiliations before deciding to stand up for himself, you are watching a character who longs for death and you believe it. The script in the early stages is peppered with details like this, Mei’s handler although a Triad scumbag actually has some feelings for Mei and some paternal bond with her so when his life is in danger, you sort of feel for him too.
After some really well shot action scenes and car chases, Mei and Wright’s relationship takes a back seat as the two of them are separated and the film becomes about Wright using what he has learned about what the code unlocks to screw over his ex-comrades who are fixing to kill him anyway. There is also a reveal of the ex-military, black ops type brought in after 9/11 by the mayor that stretches believability and was wholly unnecessary. In this second half, all the good work writer and director Boaz Yakin has laid down is undone because the film becomes more of a formulaic action movie, an action movie with great acting and really well choreographed action scenes but one with a generic plot that started so well.
Around the mid-point where the Triads invade a high class hotel looking for the pair, this was looking like it would be the modern equivalent of Leon: The Professional, but sadly it ends up being a case of a near miss but an entertaining Saturday night near miss nonetheless.