I’ve done so many reviews for those “only one man can help” blockbusters that I’ve exhausted every possible way of introducing them. To some, that might’ve been evident in my piece on “Lockout,” which featured a lazy examination into the ‘80s action hero. In my defense, there are only so many ways you could describe movies like Boaz Yakin’s (who has previously directed the disastrous “Death in Love” and “Uptown Girls”) Safe, which marinates audiences in clichés and ultra-violence and is content in its lack of innovation. Be that as it may, it’s also one of those cases where, while familiar, the film succeeds as a passing spectacle.
The movie stars fan-favorite Jason Statham as Luke Wright, an ex-cage fighter who, during a staged fight, becomes the target of Russian mob by disobeying his act as a ragdoll, subsequently costing a kingpin a lot of money. As revenge, they murder his wife and punish him by promising to kill every other person he befriends. After years of isolating himself, he becomes depressed and suicidal.
Meanwhile in China, Mei (Catherine Chan), a young girl considered a genius in mathematics by both students and teachers alike, is captured by the Triads (heralded by the ruthless Han Jiao — played by James Hong) and brought to New York City to memorize a priceless numerical code. After talks between the Chinese, the city’s corrupt cops, and the Russians break down, she escapes and finds a friend in the distraught Wright, who promises to protect her.
The initial set-up seems overcomplicated but it raises the stakes high enough for the action to be entertaining. With a city at war, Yakin allows himself plenty of opportunities for violently inventive shoot-outs and fisticuffs. For the most part, Safe delivers in the way of adrenaline rushes — there isn’t anything groundbreaking, yet seeing our grizzled protagonist stab a henchman in the throat with a fork or smash someone’s neck in with a dinner plate is always a delight (although I can’t say that reflects positively on our collective tastes).
However, the locations they’re shot at are painfully derivative. Ranging from a bar full of mobsters to moving subways to a car chase through Midtown, Manhattan, the sets are mostly ripped from other, more successful movies (including some of the lead’s better works). Still, Stefan Czapsky’s excellent cinematography and likable performances do massage some of this issue.
For a movie built on the back of its action, the main draw, surprisingly, is the fantastic chemistry between Statham and Chan. His natural charisma and her sarcastic wisecracks complement each other excellently. And while the screenplay doesn’t take their relationship in any new directions, the two manage to make it feel fresh.
So if your girl’s not dragging you to get sappy with “The Five-Year Engagement”; you’re not interested in smothering your inner child by seeing “Pirates! Band of Misfits”; and your brain’s already scrambled enough from that 9-5 desk job to watch pretentious indie fare; the mindless thrills in Yakin’s Safe may just be the safest bet.