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Movie Review: Safe (2012)

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Boaz Yakin, writer (Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time), director (Remember The Titans), and producer (Hostel: Part II), comes up with Safe (it just occurred to me the title is a pun, but not a very good one) – a loud tale of wars on the streets of NYC with lots of blood spilling, and nothing much else happening. For main man Jason Statham, a former diver and brilliant actor (in Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels at least), this is not the top movie on his CV, but he again shows off himself as a solid action performer and extraordinary stunt man (must remind myself to fix that piece of gym equipment and get down to gettin’ those killer abs).

The Plot

In a series of nauseating jumps from ‘then’ to ‘now’ we learn that a Chinese girl Mei, who is 12 (why are the girls in these movies always 12?), is a wonder kid who beats her teacher in math only to get kidnapped by the Chinese mafia.  She is traded over to the US to keep business figures and dozens of number streams containing important codes for the bad guys in her tiny head. Her dad having abandoned her and having a sick mother, Mei has no one except the bad people who surround her, if those are to be considered people at all.

Luke Wright (Statham) is now a cage fighter but did some really bad things in the past. He manages to piss off the Russian mafia and the Triads; his ex-pals, the corrupt cops; and some city officials who make Hannibal Lector resemble Snow White. All of them want to get their hands on Mei to be their portable bookkeeper without the inconvenient trails PCs and paper notes leave. She photographs ledgers and account balances with one wink of an eye.  She knows the ROI of every shop and casino in the district – so inevitably conflicts arise as to who is going to own such an invaluable ‘asset.’

In Safe, difficult times are not just difficult for ordinary citizens but also for Chinese mafia, corrupt cops, and even the Mayor himself (Chris Sarandon). Luke, however, lives in a world of his own, where life has lost all meaning after his much adored (and pregnant) wife was murdered by Russian goons. He lives in a world where anyone he befriends, even superficially, falls victim to the mob. His days are lonely and pointless until as a result of some chaotically edited events, Luke and Mei end up on the same subway platform with two opposite goals in mind: she wants to live and he wants to die. Luke finds new purpose just before he commits the irreversible: the girl is chased by the same guys who murdered his wife, so he decides to redeem himself by doing something a little more noble than being beaten up to a pulp every night.

One Dimension

Safe indeed plays it really safe on the sentiments, shunning away from being compared to Leon:  The Professional, where Jean Reno and Natalie Portman formed an electrifying bond, as if being compared to Leon would be a terrible thing. Statham’s Luke is too one-dimensional for the depths Luc Besson’s chef-d’oeuvre touched upon. Emotion is almost absent in the movie, even though little Mei is pitched against inhuman characters like a Chinese mob boss (James Hong) and has to outsmart them to survive. None of it seems real, and nowhere do we get to see her perspective, and the horror of her position.

As seen from the Safe trailer, the movie draws on Leon and other Hong Kong actioners–full of bloody yet riveting fight scenes–but Kill Bill it is not. There is some welcome humor in the picture, but it never gets anywhere interesting.

If I strain myself pretty hard, I can review Safe as a dystopia with the central antihero trying to shake off his paranoid stupor and start living, not merely surviving, again. The mafia represents oppression in the most generic sense; Mei’s new ‘Dad’ (Chinese mafia dude played by Reggie Lee) promises his ‘daughter’ to love her like no one else, as every other abuser out there would, while routinely pointing a loaded gun at her head. But Mei is no victim prone to sadomasochistic pleasure, she learns a few things along the way, and can react fast in the face of adversity.

The war on the streets of NYC got me thinking of the whole gun-loving thing (some) Americans like to defend with so much saliva spitting. The nightmarish nihilism critics could write about here is a stretch (common, this is just a shoot’em-up). Despite the constant action the movie gets seriously yawn-worthy by the end – Yakin should have worked on some balance.

Verdict: only if you are really, really bored. And only at home.

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About Sviatlana Piatakova