As part of a new reviewing strategy I have bolded and underline the parts of this review that I feel are the most important to read, so if you’d just prefer the one minute version of my thoughts here, feel free to scroll down at your leisure.
Mei (Catherine Chan) is a very gifted child to say the absolute least, as we learn right at the very start of this movie. She is startlingly brilliant at math and has the ability to memorize long sequences of numbers with very little time or effort on her part. This makes her an incredibly desirable asset and a target for the Chinese Triads who control the neighborhood that she lives in, as they can basically use her like their own little personal computer, without the hassle of worrying about anyone else hacking into their system and meddling around in their business. So after kidnapping her mother and threatening to do vile and unspeakable things to her, they finally get the leverage they need to make Mei do as she’s told and act as their own personal number cruncher. And with that it’s goodbye China and hello New York City, where they quickly put her to work keeping track of their many numbers based rackets and assorted illegal goings on.
Elsewhere in the Big Apple we have Luke Wright (Jason Statham), a former cop, and current low level cage fighter, who makes the mistake of winning a rigged fight he was supposed to lose. As punishment for his mistake here the Russian mafia, who organized the fight, see fit to murder his pregnant wife while he watches on helplessly, and then have Luke shadowed for months afterward, basically making his life a living hell, and quickly murdering anyone he even momentarily makes any kind of social contact with, aside from the most basic of exchanges such as buying a hot dog or a Newspaper etc… An example of this is shown while he spends the night in a homeless shelter, and taking pity on the poor guy with badly cut up feet in the bed next to him, gives him the very shoes off of his feet, only to wake up the next morning to find said person with their throat cut from ear to ear. At this point I could just hear the little old lady in Blazing Saddles sarcastically saying “Oh have you ever seen such cruelty?” So needless to say, both Luke and Mei find themselves dealing with some very sick and evil bastards here.
New York City is shown in a very harsh and unflattering light in this movie; reminiscent of the gritty crime dramas you use to see back in the 1970s such as Death Wish and others of that ilk. Aside from the main characters almost no one is portrayed in a positive or even semi redeeming light. The police force is in the pocket of both the Chinese and the Russian mob. Even the mayor is rotten SOB and ruthless tyrant, and no, I’m not talking about the kind that bans soft drinks larger than sixteen ounces here, either. Eventually, the Russian mob, being envious of the advantage that the brilliant young girl gives the Chinese Triad, decides to kidnap her for their own use. Along with the girl they will also get the combination (which is a long series of completely random numbers known only of course to the little girl) to a safe containing thirty million dollars inside of it. The kidnapping goes horribly wrong though, thankfully, and winds up with the little girl on the loose, and being simultaneously hunted down by the Russian Mafia, the Chinese Triads, and the New York City Donut Busters. And you thought your childhood was messed up. And wouldn’t you know it, in another amazing coincidence of cinematic happenstance, said little girl just happens to cross paths with the aforementioned ex cop/cage fighter Luke Wright. This all goes down just in time to prevent Luke from potentially committing suicide, and to finally motivate him to stop slumming around feeling sorry for himself, and to get back doing what he does best, which is going all Chuck Norris on some very nefarious mofoes left and right and giving them the savage beatings they so emphatically deserve.
A good “dumb” action movie is built in much the same simple way as a good professional wrestling match. The first part of the match/movie is usually spent allowing the bad guy to build up ‘heat’ as it is called on the good guy by beating him thoroughly into the ground until he is good and whipped. This continues until the point when you have just about lost all hope that your hero can mount a comeback, at which point, of course, he mounts said comeback and cleans house. Also like a wrestling match for movies like this, the simpler the better. There’s no need to complicate things with an overly thought out premise or unnecessary plot twists, (or in the wrestling match example needless flashy moves performed just for the sake of it or complicated false finishes). Leave that to films with grander ambitions than this, as they in no way belong here. People going into a movie like this should know what they are getting into from the start. And, provided that’s what they want to watch, a movie such as ‘Safe’ will deliver them a hell of a lot of fun and satisfaction for what it is.
Safe is an A+ example of a classic B movie at its best. There’s little time here wasted on unnecessary dialogue or complex character development, but there is just enough of both simple dialogue (including of course, great one liners) and simple character development to keep the story from going off the rails like a lesser movie might do by trying to cram either too much, or not enough into the leading character’s back stories to make us care about them. Indeed, we have two very sympathetic and straight forward characters here in Luke Wright and Mei. And they are opposed by some very corrupt and evil people on all sides in the form of the two competing criminal gangs, and a crooked police force on top of that. The odds are overwhelmingly stacked against them, and the stakes are life and death high (not to mention the thirty million). This sets just the right visceral setting and emotional tone for Jason Statham to get started whooping some whole sale ass all over the city, cracking necks, splitting skulls, and generally making life really, really unpleasant for any of the bad guys, whether they be cops or criminals ( or both), that he finds himself up against here in this movie.
Another good thing about this movie is its breakneck pace. It slows down just enough let you enjoy the action and chew the scenery, but not enough to let you see through the holes in its story. Pacing wise this is the best movie of this sort I’ve seen since the first ‘Taken’ movie with Liam Neeson, which I’d say ‘Safe’ is easily just as entertaining and action packed as that movie was. I remember thinking while watching Taken that it was strange to see someone making a Jason Statham movie without Jason Statham in it, although to be sure, Liam Neeson brings all the badass, and twice the acting talent. But for this movie’s purposes, Statham of course will do just fine. This is also a better movie, in my opinion, than either one of the Expendables movies that co-starred Statham with Sylvester Stallone and a slew of 1980s action all stars. This movie just flat out surprised me with how effective it was at what it wanted to be. This isn’t the kind of movie that is going to reinvent the wheel or make a big emotional or artistic statement, but it does the job it sets out to do with very precise and efficiently directed action throughout and characters that you can easily get behind pitted against villains you can also easily root against.
There are a few twists here plot wise at the end of the movie that I will not spoil, but nothing that earth shattering or movie altering. It basically just serves to tie the story together a bit tighter and to give Jason Statham an excuse (as if he needed one) and an opportunity to get the final upper hand here on the bad guys. The story is just clever enough, just humorous enough, and just dark enough to be just right. It’s rare to see a movie with such low ambition get so many things right. It’s an obvious and overused pun, but director Boaz Yakin and leading man Jason Statham definitely played it safe with ‘Safe’. But hey, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? If this if the kind of movie you’re looking for, you could do a hell of a lot worse. So anyway, if you’re looking for something a little more cinematically substantial and thought provoking, feel free to skip this one, but if you’re just in the mood to turn off your brain and let the bullets fly, this is the perfect popcorn flick for your afternoon entertainment. That’s all for this review. As always thanks for reading, and I’ll see you all again next time.
Safe gets a three out of five: GOOD.