I love this sort of movie. This is a B-movie, a second-tier action film centered on the ability of the lead to carry you through. If this was made a quarter-century ago it would have surely starred someone like Steven Seagal or Jean Claude Van Damme. It is an over the top action vehicle with a thin story to carry you from one action sequence to the next. This time out it is called Safe and it stars Jason Statham, a star seemingly cut from cloth similar to those action stars of yesteryear. Safe should play well on a double bill with movies like Out for Justice and Showdown in Little Tokyo.
The movie is absurd, violent, surprisingly comical, and just a lot of fun. There are times when I just want to be entertained by an action movie and this one fits the bill. It is bereft of complicated plot turns and built upon a series of increasingly violent sequences until the inevitable conclusion. It does not require deep thought, just a desire to be entertained, much like those old school actioners from the 1980s.
If I have any complaints, it is that the opening is a little too convoluted. Rather than jumping right into the story, the movie begins just before the main characters meet, then jumps backwards in time through their recent history. One hour ago, one month ago, one year ago, four months later, three weeks later, and so on back to the “present” where the first scene takes place before settling on a more straightforward path. It gets a little frustrating, and I was afraid it was going to ruin the film, but once you are through the non-linear narrative jumps, it settles down into a straight line.
The story follows a 12-year-old Chinese girl named Mei (Catherine Chan) who’s very good with math and numbers. She is kidnapped by a criminal organization, run by a Mr. Han (James Hong). She is shipped to America so her skills can be put to use in their service. Things go downhill after she memorizes a long sequence of numbers, a code. Said code is something that a lot of people want to get their hands on.
That brings us to Luke Wright (Jason Statham), a former cop and current cage fighter. He is a man with some issues, but when he sees Mei and the bad guys after her, he puts them aside to help her. We meet him at a very dire time in his life and in her he finds a reason to live. He takes her under his wing and fights to protect her from the Chinese, the Russians, and even corrupt cops. When it comes to bad guys, Safe has a little bit of everything.
Beyond that, there really is not much to Safe. There is nothing new or particularly fresh, which forces the questions — why does it work and why do I like it?
The answer, like the movie, is simple. Safe is fun. As stated, it reminds me of those old school action movies from the 1980s and the film’s star is also reminiscent of those hard-nosed stars of the past. There’s a reason he is included among the legends in The Expendables.
Safe is a movie on rails, a throwback that doesn’t act like a throwback. We get car chases, fist fights, and shootouts. We have a bad ass lead who is always ready with a punch or a quip. We have desperate bad guys willing to throw all of their foot soldiers into the mix. There really isn’t anything not to like about it.
This is not to say it is a perfect or even great movie. Written and directed by Boaz Yakin, the movie is nicely paced and is just an entertainment and nothing more. It almost feels like Yakin was looking to his past when making this one, his first credit is for writing the Dolph Lundgren version of The Punisher.
This is not a movie that will win any awards, hell, I may be one of the few to legitimately like it. It helps that Jason Statham is actually a pretty good actor (see The Bank Job, for example). He brings a solid combination of relatable screen presence and action star prowess. He brings emotion to the role, a certain sadness, and it is this element that helps elevate the material. Watch his interaction with Mei, she gives him reason and that is something he desperately needs. It is this element that gives the action movie that extra little bit of depth.
Audio/Video. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. It is a nice looking transfer with plenty of fine detail and good color saturation. What I like best about the transfer is the intentionally grainy look. It is something that adds to the atmosphere and gives it a very filmic look. It also gives the feeling that the film is older than it is and I think that works for the old school feel I get from the feature.
The audio is presented with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track that is really quite good. It makes great use of the surrounds right from the start when a subway roars through the sound field. Dialogue is always nice and clear and the gunfire, oh the glorious gunfire, sounds fantastic.
- Commentary. The track features writer/director Boaz Yakin. He discusses the film, its ’80s influences (I feel vindicated in my reaction with this), along with his start writing actioners in the ’80s, and character motivations.
- Cracking Safe. This featurette contains interviews with Boaz Yakin and Jason Statham. They discuss the making of the film and the reasons for wanting to make it.
- Criminal Battleground. This takes a look New York City as the setting and as a villain.
- The Art of the Gunfight. This goes inside the action sequences and the construction of some of the set pieces.
Bottomline. This is a good movie. It is fast paced, has a solid central character and plenty of action. If you like old school action, this is one for you. It seems like an interacted movie, why not show it some deserved love?