Stars: Jason Statham, Catherine Chan, Robert John Burke, James Hong, Anson Mount, Chris Sarandon and Sándor Técsy.
Writer / Director: Boaz Yakin
The motif that runs through Boaz Yakin’s Safe is ‘old school’. A NYC actioner about a rebel/survivor who takes on all that is rotten about The Big Apple and emerges morally triumphant, it is a hoary old concept that would have starred Robert Mitchum in the ‘50s, James Coburn in the 60s, James Caan in the 70s and Bruce Willis in the 80s. The villains are broad stereotypes, the likes of which we don’t usually see today; the crime lords are fat Russians or inscrutable Asians and the crooked cops are greasy thugs. The MacGuffin is positively ancient – a safe combination!
Leading man Jason Statham knows it is a film cut from a mouldy old cloth. In one exposition-heavy scene, his hero-figure Luke Wright twice mutters ‘old-school’, as if reminding the audience that Safe is how things used to be before action movies went all Ryan Reynolds on us. Statham, an actor comfortable letting his scowl, stubble and bald noggin take over thsping duties, is the only film star at present committing his entire oeuvre to the memory of action’s last golden era; he is like Willis’ angrier, meaner younger sibling, always trying to outdo what his big brother did best.
So much so, in fact, that he has taken to remaking Willis’ movies. Safe is essentially a reworking of Mercury Rising, the one in which Bruce protects the brilliant autistic boy. Here, Statham warms to and chooses to play protector for a mathematically gifted Chinese girl, Mei (Catherine Chan), who has been abducted to help the Triads run their extortion racket. Triads don’t use computers; the profit margins of every downtown business paying protection money are kept in the little girls head. Of course, the Russians want her; the top tier of New York’s finest, all taking bribes, know her value as a bargaining tool. Only Wright stands alone to defy them….
Given the peril that everyone finds themselves in, it is ironic that Safe remains exactly that. An energetic but entirely perfunctory grinding of genre gears, it is a film that gives a fresh coat of paint to such staple as the nightclub shootout, the ruthlessly ambitious, dirty Police Chief (Robert John Burke, so angular he looks like Skeletor) and the hardboiled hero with a heart of gold. It adheres to its ‘old-school’ agenda with some splattery gun violence and (wait for it…) a car chase that goes the wrong way up a one way street.
Safe and its leading man are clearly not trying win any new fans, contentedly playing to the expectations of patrons who come to see a film whose poster points a gun in their face (pictured, right). Had the product (and Safe is, above all else, Hollywood product) reached a little higher, its title might have seemed coolly ironic. Instead, it inadvertently represents truth in advertising.