2012’s Safe is a Jason Statham action vehicle in the truest sense, and in no way is that a bad thing. It delivers all the elements we’ve come to expect from The Stath’s movies – including shootouts, fisticuffs, and cheesy one-liners – but what’s surprising about Safe is how genuinely skilful it is. It falls short of revolutionising the genre, yet this material fits Statham’s limited acting range like a glove, resulting in a proficient blast of thrilling action mayhem which deftly energises its standard-order plot constituents. It’s a barebones B-movie, but writer-director Boaz Yakin refused to fall victim to the pitfalls of similar efforts, showing a clear understanding in how to excel in the art of cinematic junk food without denying his target audience the simple pleasures that they demand. For action junkies looking for something to satiate their desire for brutal beat downs and exhilarating gun battles, Safe is the cup of manic machismo they’ll go gaga for.
After failing to lose a fixed fight, former cop-turned-cage fighter Luke (Statham) is sentenced to a miserable existence by Russian gangsters. Luke’s wife is murdered and he’s told he can no longer interact with anybody lest his new acquaintance be killed, forcing the broken man to live on the streets without purpose. While on the verge of suicide, Luke witnesses young Chinese girl Mei (Chan) being hunted by the same Russians who ruined his life, and he decides to rescue her. A little genius with a photographic memory, Mei was kidnapped by Chinese gangsters to memorise numbers and thus avoid creating any paper trails. As it turns out, Mei’s head contains a secret code that’s wanted by the Chinese, the Russians, corrupt New York cops, and even the Mayor. Determined to protect Mei, Luke goes on the run with a newfound reason to live, killing pursuers at every turn.
One of Safe‘s biggest assets is that the story unfolds at an agreeable clip. While the narrative is a tad more dense than its superficial set-up, the explanations of the story’s ins and outs are well-judged; brisk enough to ensure that the pace never slows to a crawl, yet detailed enough to ensure we’ll never feel lost or confused. Thankfully, the same principal applies to character development. Thus, Safe is stripped-down to a satisfying extent without feeling underdone. Furthermore, while this is not the most intelligent action movie out there, it’s not in-your-face stupid either, and that’s a huge deal in a world where Michael Bay exists. Boaz Yakin may have spent his career up until now on peaceful movies of varying quality (including Uptown Girls…), but his handling of this material is astonishingly competent. Yakin achieves what most action directors yearn for; a level of energy so engaging that you won’t want to stop and over-think things. Best of all, Yakin displays no interest in corny melodrama.
Action connoisseurs – especially those who’ve grown weary of generic, watered-down PG-13 tosh – owe it to themselves to check out Safe since it’s more or less a personal valentine to them. Trust me, the shootouts, car chases and fights here are all of the highest order. Each set-piece is intense and frenetic, and Yakin and cinematographer Stefan Czapsky managed to achieve this effect while lensing the action in an entirely comprehensible fashion. Best of all, the action scenes are brutal. The fight choreography here is some of the best in recent memory, and Yakin took advantage of every opportunity to orchestrate violent gun battles in a deliriously brazen way. The editing may be somewhat frenetic at times, but there is no distracting shaky-cam to be found. Safe looks damn good as well, with attractive production values and Mark Mothersbaugh’s pulse-pounding score which were achieved on the slight $30 million budget. In terms of visuals and technical competency, this is a home run. It’s rare to find an action film this well-made.
Jason Statham’s participation in the Expendables series has ostensibly set him up as a successor to the likes of Sly and Arnie, and Safe further proves that he’s one of this generation’s last true action heroes. In the tradition of ’80s action icons, Statham is a star who’s content to play the same character over and over again…and that’s fine: he has found a niche which suits him, and he’s just playing to this strength. Statham’s badass screen presence makes him an agreeable action hero, and it’s somewhat soothing to see him doing what he does best. Fortunately, Statham works really well with co-star Catherine Chan as Mei. The rest of the actors, meanwhile, are just fine – they suit their roles perfectly and always seem immersed in the material.
A vicious and visceral actioner, Safe is an enjoyable ride. It’s nothing you’ll remember a few days after viewing, but it’s nothing you’ll regret spending your time on either. One could criticise the film since it fails to break new ground, but that’s what makes it so refreshing: it retreads familiar ground in an energetic fashion without any boring pretensions. It’s best likened to a typical hot fudge sundae; a not-exactly-fancy concoction which nevertheless delivers plenty of delicious ice cream and irresistible chocolate chutzpah.