Director: Boaz Yakin
Starring: Jason Statham, Catherine Chan, James Hong, Chris Sarandon, Robert John Burke
Like its title suggests, this latest offering from the British action man Jason Statham is hardly breaking new ground. A washed-up ex-cop, caught in the middle of a war between the Russian Mafia and the Chinese Triads, you could be forgiven for thinking Safe has a distinct whiff of straight-to-video about it. Maybe Statham thought the same thing when he read the script; either way, he diligently tries to elevate this thriller above the usual bargain-basement action fare.
He plays Luke Wright, a former New York cop who blew the whistle on his corrupt colleagues and now ekes out a living as a cage fighter, getting pounded on a nightly basis. Already in debt to the Russians after he refused to throw a fight, he's near-suicidal after they bump off his wife. About to throw himself under a train, he then spies the schoolgirl Mei (Catherine Chan) on the platform. Redemption alert! Turns out, she's also on the run from the Russians, who kidnapped her from her Chinese paymasters.
Written and directed by Boaz Yakin, a director whose career has lurched somewhat uncomfortably between Hollywood (Remember the Titans, Uptown Girls) and the independent sector (The Price Above Rubies), the premise faintly recalls his 1994 debut Fresh. That film featured a young chess-playing Brooklyn boy caught up in the drugs trade. Here, Mei likes maths; her brain has a remarkable capacity for storing and processing numbers.
Unlike a computer, she leaves no trace - which is why the old-school Triad boss Uncle Han (James Hong) had her brought to New York. Currently in her head is the combination to a downtown safe containing US$30 million (Dh110m); when Luke realises this, he becomes her protector, playing the Chinese, Russians and the corrupt NYPD against each other. Indeed, for all the bullets fired and punches thrown, it becomes something like a chess game as Luke tries to stay one move ahead.
With the plot motor installed, the second half roars past as Luke and Mei try to outwit their pursuers, Yakin more than capable of staging some exhilarating Bourne-influenced set-piece shoot-outs in hotels, bars and subway trains. Whether fans reared on Statham's more explosive action films (The Transporter and Crank franchises) will be satisfied is debatable, though there's enough here for most adrenalin junkies.
In truth, the script is full of casual racism, villains are generic and the attempts to interweave corruption to the highest level (the mayor gets involved) are laughable. Yet it ticks over, thanks largely to Statham's rough-hewn turn - straight out of the Bruce Willis playbook, when it comes to macho vulnerability - and Yakin's sub-noir dialogue ("been in restaurants all night," laments Luke, "all I got served was lead").
Outside of Statham's grizzled acting, the newcomer Chan should be commended for holding her own and offering a little sass, though very few of the other actors (the Blade Runner star James Hong aside, who is always watchable) get a chance to flesh their two-dimensional characters. The result is like the celluloid equivalent of a cream bun: you'll gorge on it, but it'll make you sick afterwards.
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