Jason Statham headlining a gritty, action thriller is as routine as the sun coming up. But the man has the role down to a science whether he's a down-on-his-luck cop, former CIA agent, ruthless assassin or any of the other stock characters that open up the Pandora's Box of butt-kicking, Statham can deliver. Safe embraces these expectations, throwing together an amalgamated central character (Luke Wright, a currently homeless former NYPD cop who was secretly black ops, maybe assassin hired by the blah blah blah) who goes to battle with every bad guy New York City can offer. Russian mafia, Chinese mafia, corrupt cops name the group, Statham breaks their tracheae. If that sounds delightful and fresh, Safe is a must-see.
ALTWright's metropolitan misadventure begins after he crosses path with a young Chinese girl, Mei (newcomer Catherine Chan), whose endless memory holds the combination to a locked up, unknown prize. Every immoral guy in town wants the information Han Jiao (James Hong) and his gang, who kidnapped the girl from her home country, want their lost property back; Vassily Docheski (Joseph Sikora) wants to make his mob operation richer; Mayor Tremello (Chris Sarandon) and Captain Wolf (Robert John Burke) want to keep the whole thing under wraps, so they continue extorting the crime families. Then there's Wright, just a nice guy looking to do a nice thing for a girl in trouble. Commence gun fire and painful deaths.
Writer/Director Boaz Yakin does his best to innovate within the Statham formula, utilizing some tricky camera work and snappy comedy dialogue. Simple things keep us on our toes; when Wright first rescues Mei from the clutches of pursuing goons, the two jump into a car. We're in the back seat witnessing Statham slamming people back and forth, the rear view mirror catching all of the action behind us. In a movie where violence is prioritized over plot, the little things really count. Yakin knows it.
Tonally, Safe never clicks, and it's a major barrier for enjoyment. On one hand, it's all about realism the emotional trauma undergone by a child, the real world implications of criminal activity and the bigger picture issues at hand (Sarandon's mayor character just had to go and make it a 9/11 thing, didn't he). On the other, countless people are gunned down in array of cartoonish violence. Safe isn't Crank; this fact makes rooting for Statham, as he punches and shoots his way through crowds of mafiosos, a little uncomfortable. The movie's too heavy for its own good, even for a strongman like Statham.