– Summary –
Director : Boaz Yakin
Year Of Release : 2012
Principal Cast : Jason Statham, Catherine Chan, James Hong, Reggie Lee, Robert John Burke, Chris Sarandon, Danny Hoch, Anson Mount.
Approx Running Time : 95 Minutes
Synopsis: An ex-cop and former cage-fighter must protect a gifted child who is being chased by the Russian mafia, Chinese Triads, and corrupt New York City police.
What we think : Bruising, battering action film that delivers exactly the right level of violence, Statham-cool and gratuity – as the body count reaches near-triple figures one starts to wonder when he’s gonna take a hit, or even just a graze, but he doesn’t. And that’s okay. Because Statham.
All Statham, all the time!
If it’s possible to get two films with distinctly different personalities out of the same director, look not further than Boaz Yakin’s Safe, featuring Jason Statham, and Remember The Titans, starring…. Denzel Washington. Both films feature men fighting oppression and opposition, although in Safe one might say that the opposition is better armed and packing more punch per inch than any of Titans’ football stars. Safe surges with a raw, pulsating intensity, although that’s not to say it’s a very smart film, because it ain’t. What it delivers is yet another Statham bruise-fest, the kind of ass-kicking actioner that makes second-tier crud like The Mechanic feel like a doorstop on the way to something better. This, although not a great film, is top-shelf Statham, and Boaz Yakin forgoes the PG safety of bloodless bone-crunching and delivers a visceral, thunderous action flick that pounds New York’s pavement and asks it if it likes it. Which is weird, because I’d never expect a film with this much silly insanity to come out of Yakin’s head. I should have, you know, because this is the same guy who wrote the screenplay for Dolph Lundgren’s The Punisher, the Eastwood/Sheen team-up flick The Rookie, and co-scripted the Disney mega-film version of The Prince of Persia. I should have expected some manner of guts-n-gore from Safe, although I admit I wasn’t prepared for what I got going in.
Luke Wright (Jason Statham) lives the life of a New York City bum. After winning a fixed cage-fight he was supposed to lose, the Russian Mafia killed his pregnant wife and told him they’d also kill anyone else he associated with. Over in China, a young girl, Mei (Catherine Chan) is recruited by the Chinese Triads, led by Han (James Hong), for her incredible memory. She is given a special code to memorize, and then sent to New York where gangster Quan (Reggie Lee) will use her to make a deal with corrupt NY City cops, and the Russians. When Mei escapes her captors and flees into the city, she is found by Luke, who realizes that she is being used as a pawn in a major gang-related deal. The corrupt police, led by Captain Wolf (Robert John Burke) and backed by equally corrupt New York City Mayor Danny Tremello (Chris Sarandon), know how dangerous Luke really is – seconded to the police force in the wake of 9/11, Luke came with a seriously professional black-ops past, and as his plan to keep Mei safe springs into action, the police, Chinese and Russians soon find themselves taking on a one-man army set to take them all down.
Oh man, what a cracker. Safe is anything but; this balls-out, testosterone-laden festival of violence delivers a fatuously convoluted script in ways that eschew sanity and feel like you’ve been sprayed in the eyes with a handful of sand. The screenplay is neither simple nor intelligent, with Luke Wright’s character pretty much interchangeable for every other Jason Statham character he’s played, nor does it offer any nice twists of plot, or maximize the use of its terrific casting – namely Robert John Burke or Chris Sarandon, who appear to be swanning about for the paycheck rather than anything worthwhile. The film’s plot is relatively predictable for a caper such as this, with its rat-a-tat dialogue and punchy, take-no-prisoners action sequences, while Statham’s square-jawed performance (as if he could give any other kind!) is suitable for the material moreso than just about any other screen star today.
Where Safe differentiates itself from most mainstream action films today is in its violence. Safe is rampantly visceral, adult-oriented carnage writ large across the streets of New York City. Gun battles, with copious bodies, blood spurts and wanton violent actions of the cast are captured with a highly stylized “realism” by Yakin’s camera, lensed with ferocity by Stephan Czapsky, who gives New York a dingy, underworld-ridden malevolence, as if the city itself is a Swiss-cheese of crime and corruption. The action sequences are almost entirely at night, or in enclosed spaces, such as a heart-pounding nightclub battle, and a hotel-set free-for-all. Not to mention the final, scrotum-twitching shootout as Luke and his corrupt cop buddies storm a Chinese nightclub to crack a highly guarded safe, which descends into a shadowy, rapid-fire blast-a-thon that makes The Wild Bunch look like an after-school picnic.
Yakin’s camera and editing is unforgiving; he puts you right in the spatter path, soaking the gore with a fairly placid sense of framing yet capturing all the shocking, flinching violence Luke and his cohorts unleash. The films editing in particular is problematic in that it’s almost too quick to cut away to some other action moment, especially during the more frenetic shoot-outs and chases that occur. It does cause some of these scenes to be nearly indistinguishable from others in the film, the heightened dramatic impact is unmissable. Safe rockets out of the starting gate and never looks back. Gunshots, punches, crashes and all manner of foley effects are mixed into the soundtrack with a brutal effectiveness, a kinda aural cage-fight of a soundtrack, if you will. Gunfire is particularly noteworthy for its perfunctory style – these aren’t “Hollywood” guns the film features, these are “real” guns, in the sense that they sound exactly like a gun would in real life, without any movie-magic to go with it. You know when someone gets shot, they don’t get up and wander away with simply a graze. Shot and killed means no last-second resurrection from apparent death. For anyone.
The films primary weakness is with the scripting, and the central performances of Statham and Catherine Chan. Chan, in particular, tries to come across as something of a bit of a brat, at times, and she lacks the charisma or performance ability to carry it off. Statham, meanwhile, is just Statham, although he does shed a tear early on (hell, his pregnant wife has just been hacked to death, so it figures he’d have to cry, right?) but generally remains fairly bland throughout the movie. The payoff to his character being some kind of uber-Black Ops type in a past life is laughably insane, but you totally buy it because… well, Jason Statham. When Statham becomes a father-figure for the orphaned girl (it’s a stretch, but go with it!), and befriends her through a hail of gunfire, you’d expect some kind of reasonably lazy scriptwriting to bounce around just how “perfect” these two are together. You just know Luke’s gonna take her under his wing, although it’s more a question of how long her resistance will hold up than anything else. Their scenes together should have been charming, if not always moving – honestly though, the thought of Statham’s brutal character here being a good father to Mei is laughable, and neither actor is convincing. Anson Mount’s Boss Level villain, Alex, who confronts Luke and Mei at the end of the film, is generic and uninteresting, if entirely kinda creepy in many ways.
When you want the kind of action where you require no brainpower whatsoever, or simply want to see a number of nameless, faceless henchmen brutalized by Statham’s martial-arts prowess, Safe will deliver it. The action is hyper-violent, the story simplistic, and Boaz Yakin’s direction captures the seething underbelly of New York’s crime element with precision and ferocity. While the aesthetic might put many off, and other will consider this to be merely adequate rubbish to while away a few hours, Safe is terrific bone-crunching, action-packed film-making that strides confidently into the all-but abandoned “adult” section of the cinematic spectrum; bloody and effective, Safe is cracking Statham-tertainment, the whoop-assery and skull-thuggery film we’ve long dreamed of in the shadows of the Expendables movies.