Review: Statham plays 'Safe' with savage excess
"Safe" is the worst Jason Statham movie since the last Jason Statham movie, carrying on the bargain-budget action star's tradition of building a body of work out of, well, dead bodies.
Writer-director Boaz Yakin (who directed the gentle football drama "Remember the Titans" but now is back in the mode of his first-produced screenplay with Dolph Lundgren's vigilante tale "The Punisher") proves the ideal enabler for Statham's brand of mindless carnage.
Together, they turn Manhattan into little more than a shooting gallery, stacking up corpses in service of a supposed story about one man's path to redemption. But really, all they care about is stacking up corpses, as many as they can, ripped apart by as many bullets as possible, with a few snapped necks and other more intimate moments of savagery to break up the repetitive tedium of the gunplay.
The fact that Statham's main co-star, a little girl, witnesses much of this violence with barely a wince says a lot about where the filmmakers' heads are at: Hey, we're just doing cartoon violence, nyukking it up like the Three Stooges, nothing really objectionable here. As long as you don't object to a couple of hundred kill shots to the head and barrages so indiscriminate you have no clue how many casual bystanders are getting blown away along with the many bad guys.
Yakin's thin setup intercuts the story of Statham's Luke Wright with 12-year-old Chinese math prodigy Mei (newcomer Catherine Chan). Luke's a deadly mixed-martial arts fighter inexplicably working as a punching bag in the arena -- until he mistakenly wins a match he was supposed to throw, prompting terrible retaliation by Russian mobsters who leave Luke an outcast cut off from any possibility of real human contact.
Mei's a genius kidnapped by Chinese gangsters and taken to New York City as a human abacus, keeping her boss' accounting books in her head so he doesn't leave a computer trail of his crimes.
A chance glance between Luke and Mei on a subway platform is all it takes for him to step in as her protector when she's pursued by both her Chinese captors and the Russians who ruined his own life.
Luke absurdly rationalizes that he somehow was saved from the brink when his eyes met Mei's, and he repays her the only way he knows how: by killing anyone who so much as looks askance at her, and quite a few people who don't even do that.
Statham has some charisma and can convey a sense of quiet gravity even in silly action roles. But his moments with Chan, which are a big hunk of the movie, are mostly awkward; put a gun in his hand and Statham can play the protector. But paternal seems beyond his reach.
The back-story gradually widens to reveal Luke's darker, deeper past, though the revelations come as cheap plot solutions to explain why he speaks fluent Russian or has backdoor access to the mayor of New York (Chris Sarandon).
Also mixed in are a bunch of rogue cops as brutal and corrupt as any of the crooks, along with a bizarre effort to explain some of Luke's history with a casually tossed off line about hardball, post-Sept. 11 efforts to mop up terrorists after the "towers fell."
For a long time, studios were terrified to even acknowledge the Sept. 11 attacks on-screen, and executives wrung their hands about whether audiences would stomach Hollywood's culture of super-violence anymore. Now, the attacks are the stuff of callous shrugs in brainless Jason Statham flicks. It's been 11 years, but still, it feels disrespectful, at least in a movie this bad.
Yakin selectively leaves enough bad guys standing for no apparent reason other than the prospects of a sequel. Please, Hollywood, keep us safe from that.
"Safe," a Lionsgate release, is rated R for strong violence throughout, and for language. Running time: 95 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G -- General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG -- Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 -- Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R -- Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 -- No one under 17 admitted.