Safe – 2012
Written and Directed by Boaz Yakin
Starring Jason Statham, Catherine Chan, Chris Sarandon, Robert John Burke, James Hong, Anson Mount
Mob war with bad cops in the midst. An ex-cop, ex-boxer and rumored garbage collector. A little Asian girl who is a math prodigy. If it were any more improbable, it would be the letter John Candy wrote to Penthouse in Splash. It takes 30 long minutes to set up, and from there, we get a good dose of fighting, maiming, and killing. It’s everything we’re used to seeing from the man who replaced the rest of The Expendables (except the wily Bruce Willis) while co-starring with them. Statham has acting ability, even if he parses it out conservatively.
The person Statham is looking to protect, Mei (Chan) is a genius with the numbers. She has an adoptive father (Lee) that is the “Flaming Dragon” guy that Cruise’s Les Wiseman yells at in Tropic Thunder. That movie is better than this one, but it’s not Statham’s fault. Well, he did choose to work with this script.
The good thing about Statham is that he never appears to be all that smart, but he rarely seems dumb. It’s pretty convincing to see him solve things that it was obvious that the meat heads from the ’80’s and ’90’s would discover coincidentally or through plot contrivance. The only times the movie makes any real headway is the times that he and Chan converse. The rest of it is bullets and ass whippings.
A movie like this is only as strong as its bad guy. Chris Sarandon’s last effective turn in that role was in the original Fright Night. The guy playing Robocop 3 (Burke) is a faceless captain. Then there is the guy behind them. Whoopee.
It’s the kind of movie that works hard to be clever, harder to be sentimentally stoic, and even harder to show that one life is worth more than all the bodies it stacks up on the floor. Who lives and who dies is not as essential to the plot as it tries to indicate. In the end, the chemistry and substance needed to make Safe anything special leaves the moment the two protagonists separate. By the time they get back together, (even if that moment is clever) the movie is long over.
(** out of *****)