7 May 2012

SAFE- Review

Jason Statham characters don't really have many problems that can't be solved by punching and/or kicking, so the crowd-pleasing action star isn't exactly famous for his emotional range. Although it's not long into Safe before we find him dressed for The Transporter, traumatised “garbage collector” Luke Wright is a more restrained and dramatically interesting hero than the likes of Frank Martin, or Chev Chelios.

Luke falls afoul of Russian mobsters when he refuses to flunk out of a cage fight, meaning that some powerful people lose an awful lot of money. Their vengeance is inventive, and Luke is essentially forced to become a hermit. He's about to end his miserable existence when he encounters Mei, a prodigious Chinese girl who has been entrusted with a very important number- a code which contains the combination to a safe. The mob, the Triads and even the corrupt NYPD are all gunning for the code, but Luke takes it on himself to protect the girl. Punching and kicking ensues.

This one starts out slightly convoluted. We begin with the real inciting incident, when Mei is pursued through a train station by mobsters, but then flash back a year, to explain her origins, and those of our hero. Non-linear storytelling is nothing unusual, these days, but it does mean that Safe gets off the blocks rather slowly, and with a lot of heavy, clunky exposition. There's lots of dialogue of the “As we know” variety, which sort of punctures the conceit of flashing back in any case.

There's certainly nothing wrong with taking things more slowly- not every Statham film can be Crank, and some of those that have tried, have fallen short by some distance. Director Boaz Yakin realises that we're all still waiting for the inevitable beatdowns to begin, but one of the advantages of the build-up is that the multitudes of goons are all eminently loathsome by the time they cross paths with the Stath, which only makes the action more fun.

Despite the more emotional and dramatic approach, Stath logic is fully operational. It's not all that over-the-top, but there's still plenty of time for audacious gun-fights and hand-to-hand combat, even when the hero is not on-screen. The war between the cops and the various mobsters is nicely staged, with screen time spread evenly between different adversaries and broadening the scale of the thing. It's not all of these baddies against Luke and his 12-year-old charge, but everyone against everyone else.

This is a better film than many of Jason Statham's recent works, but I'm not sure why it had to be so tame. He's the king of the over-the-top action movies, but his last few efforts have been more annoying, even if he's been good in them. He seems to relish the chance to do a bit more acting in this one, especially in his dynamic with Catherine Chan, but given how the film's plot owes a debt to films like Shoot 'Em Up and Hard Boiled, it's surprising that Statham's take isn't even as crazy as those films.

Safe scales back the Statham formula, which is of no detriment to the action sequences. It's slow to get started, and it's ultimately somewhat anti-climactic as a result of the more serious tone. Perhaps it's disappointing that a toned-down Statham is preferable to annoying misfires like The Mechanic or Blitz, but hey, it's just not sustainable to have him beat up absolutely everything all the time. On the other hand, his sporadic attempts at an American accent quite understandably revert back to his usual growl. No matter how sensitive his character is, he's clearly a British export at heart.

Safe is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Safe, why not share your comments below? If you can hold off for a week or two, there is a great, fun, and intensely violent action thriller coming out on May 18th. It's called The Raid. Hoooooolyyyyy...

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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