British bulldog Jason Statham always manages to beguile you on screen with his seemingly boundless choreographed energy and corny one-line growls that have become his reliable trademarks. Without such qualities of seasoned action veterans like Schwarzenegger and Stallone in their heyday, the Statham flick would be dead in the water, like an action flick of a bygone era.
Paradoxically, there is also a very fresh and contemporary feel to a Statham film too, in its video-gaming context that combines style and a breakneck editing pace that often defies reality. Writer-director Boaz Yakin’s Safe is in this category, as The Transformer energy is unleashed on the Big Apple, it keeps you gunning for Statham from beginning to end, however farcical and far-fetched the bits are in between, and comical his ‘American’ accent gets.
Statham is Luke Wright a former cop with a dubious past and ex-cage fighter who upsets the Russian mob then witnesses his family’s massacre. Condemned to live a solitary life by the mob – who will kill anyone he gets close to, Luke stumbles across a fleeing young Chinese girl, Mei (Catherine Chan), who is being used to memorise numerical codes for the Triads. When the mob also discovers the value of the little girl, Luke steps in to rescue her, and the unlikely pair is pursued by the Triads, the mob and corrupt NYC cops and the mayor.
Statham does what he does best in Safe: frowning in annoyance then delivering a just desert, all the while showing a soft side when the moment calls for it. It’s classic Statham in every sense; but just be warned about the more adult language and delivery than in his other films. In a nice twist to the usual, weepy, dependent child, Mei is equally tenacious and guarded and very much wiser beyond her years, making for an intriguing dynamic between Statham and Chan of two very different survivors leaning on each other.
Yakin’s story may overdose in action and make you question just how much destruction one man and several villains can seriously get away with in an urban sprawl like the Big Apple. However, its momentum and engaging cinematography never let you think too long or too deeply about how plausible everything is, as you are flung from one set-piece to another, pausing only to catch one witty Statham retort after another.
There are so many holes in Luke’s backstory that they are almost rendered irrelevant as more holes are made in the baddies as the impressive body count tallies up. Anyway, it would take more energy to make sense of the protagonist than it would to keep up with the action and car and subway chases. Yakin ensures you hear every rip, splat and crunch in true and thrilling comic-book audible style, which seems to fit perfectly with the one-dimensionality of his characters. There are also some serviceable performances from James Hong as the Triad boss and Robert John Burke as the corrupt cop captain to enjoy as stereotypical, greedy bad guys in pursuit.
Since his Transporter days, Statham has resurrected the retro action hero favoured by the likes of Bruce Willis as a likeable avenging ‘ordinary guy next door’ who just gets the job done with some impressive martial arts moves flung in. Nothing much changes in Safe or is original, only the language has got more colourful, with Yakin delivering up Statham gold for fans once again.