Statham’s cracked Safe
From writer/director Boaz Yakin comes Safe, a parade of stereotypes, inane dialogue, gun fights and car chases. Of course, the master of ceremonies could only be one man: the Stath. Yes, Jason Statham puts on his American accent to batter and blast ethnic baddies into oblivion in this surprisingly mild action-thriller.
Set in New York City, a flurry of flashy, seamless cuts introduces the main players of the story to come: the young Chinese maths prodigy Mei (Catherine Chan) used as a human ledger, the Russian mafia who are tracking her down, the Chinese mob that has lost her and, finally, our cage fightin’ hero Luke (Statham), fresh from beating his opponent within an inch of his life. As the fates would have it, the same Russian gangster who is hunting down Mei also ends up on the losing end of a sizable bet based on the assurance Luke would take a dive. The amazing thing about Safe is how light on action it is during the first act. Serving the old adage “show, don’t tell” two fingers up, violence is implied whilst threats and plot points are explained. The entire character of Luke, beyond his fondness of shooting people, is described by his enemies rather than conveyed by Statham. When the Stath does open his mouth, it’s to deliver priceless lines such as “I’ve been in restaurants all night long and all I got served was lead” or “I’ll chew your feet off at the goddamn ankles”, which would have been more interesting if it was a precursor to Luke actually doing so, but alas, there are no feet chewed off in Safe.
There are, however, countless deaths. Yet ironically, despite the high body count, Safe doesn’t exactly splash out on the bloody visuals. Clearly, these are death scenes for the entire family to enjoy. Once the action kicks in, nameless mobsters are gunned down left and right with reckless abandon. Subtly is not in Yakin’s vocabulary as Statham blows away a thug on a crowed train, the first of many very public killings. It’s a good thing the police force here is incredibly inept and thoroughly corrupt. Lead by Captain Wolf (Robert John Burke), the exposition filled coppers appear to be freshly out of Corrupt Policing 101, as they spout off racial abuse and batter Luke without provocation, before helpfully explaining their motives and Luke’s past. The portrayal of police here is just as stupidly stereotypical as the presentation of the Russian and Chinese mobsters is (James Hong’s crime lord uses abacuses, for crying out loud) and belongs buried in 80s cinema before audiences had been exposed to intelligent and clever corruption within police ranks. These dopey chumps would last all of two minutes within the world of “The Shield.”
Anyone buying a ticket to a Jason Statham flick for the acting would likely benefit from an examination of the head; as such, Safe can only be faulted so much for delivering next to no credible displays of the art form. Yet for her part, young Chan manages well enough in her debut, shifting between Mandarin and English through out while providing the semblance of an emotional core to the movie. The central draw is the action and for the most part Safe delivers. The combat sequences are shot confidently and clearly. There’s no shaky camera trickery to substitute for the impact of kicks and punches, as director of photography Stefan Czapsky (Batman Returns) has a firm grasp on how to effectively frame physical action. While the close contact looks good and captures Statham’s brutality, the film’s most visually appealing moments come from a driver seat perspective as Czapsky utilises windows and rear-view mirrors to terrific effect. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of such scenes to outweigh how poor the story and characters surrounding them are.
Safe is exactly the all brawn, no brains Stath action flick one would come to expect. Yet the imbalance between exciting fight sequences and poorly acted bouts of exposition render it a less than enjoyable experience. There are some laughs to be had thanks to the daft dialogue and archaic caricaturised villains, but Safe crumbles under the weight of underdeveloped characters and the sheer ridiculousness of its plot. 5/10