Mei, a young girl whose memory holds a priceless numerical code, finds herself pursued by the Triads, the Russian mob, and corrupt NYC cops. Coming to her aid is an ex-cage fighter whose life was destroyed by the gangsters on Mei’s trail.
You know what to expect with most action pictures starring Jason Statham. He will play a cop, a soldier, a transporter, an agent or if he’s a badass assassin, he’s one with redeeming features. The story will be meat and potatoes and will not involve dragons, witty dialogue, blinding insights into the human condition nor the sharing of the hero’s intimate inner self; any problems will be solved by the bald geezer using a combination of deadly force and his laidback charisma.
Some reviewers like to pull the proverbial out of Statham and his work, which I find a little mystifying. There will always be an audience for action pictures with simplistic plots and no character development. Having Statham in the centre of the mayhem means employing an actor who has the ability to play a believable human being. Those iconic action guys from the ‘seventies and ‘eighties, Bronson, Norris, Seagal and Schwarzenegger, could smash villains ‘til the credits rolled, but they could barely utter a convincing line of dialogue.
All of which is my awkward and meandering way of saying the best thing about the new movie SAFE is the participation of the reliable Brit bruiser. The next best thing is the strong performance by Catherine Chan the young actor who plays Mei. Her character is scared but ultra intelligent and she eventually finds a way to deal with the situation she finds herself in.
The plot of SAFE is ridiculous. Everyone the kidnapped Mei encounters in New York City is a criminal. Russian and Chinese crime gangs run everything. The police are not only powerless to stop the crime they are in fact a third gang because they take bribes and actively help the bad guys. I haven’t seen movie police this crooked since KISS OF THE DRAGON (2001). When we first meet Statham, he’s a cage fighter punishing himself for the part he played in the corruption when he too was a NYC cop. But before this, he was a Special Forces guy who specialized in assassination. So if you can imagine an SAS guy turned cop turned cage fighter who has turned his back on the world, then you understand all you need to know about Statham’s character. He’s a coiled spring, a loaded gun, a grenade with the pin out. He doesn’t want to fight, understand, but the filthy criminal scum of New York won’t let him alone. He just wants to beat himself up by letting other guys beat him up, but his past is about to come knocking. With fists of steel. OK, this isn’t the actual dialogue, but much of it does have this kind of ring to it. The lines sit somewhere between film noir and melodrama. Nothing anyone says makes much sense.
Director Boaz Yakin shoots his action scenes adequately. They are not well done, efficient or particularly fun. They are confused, thuggish encounters that are not bad, but certainly nowhere near the best the action genre has to offer. The real problem I had with some of these scenes is seeing Mei constantly put into danger. I don’t like seeing child characters threatened with guns or physical and psychological violence. It puts the audience firmly on the child’s side, but it spoiled my enjoyment of this film at times.
However the preview audience loved this flick. There were cheers as Statham did the business and some applause as the movie ended. So if you think you’d like to see him take on the Russian Mafia, the Chinese Triad, New York’s Finest and City Hall all to protect a kidnapped math genius child who is very far from home, then this movie delivers. I didn’t think this was the best use of Statham’s bankable talents.
SAFE is currently screening in Australia. It runs for 94 minutes. I rated it 2/5.