You don’t go into a Statham film expecting a taut, dialogue-heavy, cerebral drama. You certainly have a reasonable idea of what to expect: violence, one liners, a probable bi-lingual bloodfest and The Stath in all his glory. These are almost guaranteed, but the quality of the plot can vary wildly – sometimes entertaining (Crank), sometimes less so (Crank 2). It’s very much Russian roulette with Statham, and I feel like I had the revolver in my hand when I sat down to watch Safe, completely aware it could go either way.
I’m happy to report, thoughm that Safe is most certainly not an empty chamber (in a positive way, it’s always a complicated metaphor), and will not disappoint. Statham plays Luke Wright, a former New York cop turned cage fighter, whose family is killed by the Russian mafia, and who rather than killing him, chose to kill anyone he makes friends or interacts with, leaving him in a life of solitude. Simultaneously, Mei, a young Chinese girl with a prodigious photographic memory for numbers who was forced to come to America by the Chinese mafia to work counting numbers of them, escapes an attempted kidnap by The Russians (who like the Chinese are double dealing with corrupt police) only to be saved by Wright, who makes it his mission to keep this girl safe, despite being targeted by the Police, the Russians, and the Chinese.
Statham is on his usual fine form in Safe. He carries the film’s plot admirably and throughout is incredibly believable as the grizzled ex cop with a conscience. His accent is strange, as the typical London drawl he normally exhibits (usually regardless of his characters origins), is replaced with a faux New York accent, which never quite convinces. However, he delivers his one liners with such gusto, and such charm that this is instantly forgivable, and he is always sympathetic, even when killing literally hundreds of people (and the body count has to be somewhere in that region in this film). Catharine Chan does well as Mei, though she isn’t really required to do a great deal, but she is very believable, and the hordes of nameless henchmen play their part with aplomb.
The action sequences have to be one of the main draws of a film like this, and it’s very easy to get the balance wrong. What Safe does excellently, is its pace. There is plenty of time for breathing space between the set pieces, and to actually move the plot forward without exhausting the audience, or seeming completely ludicrous. A film that features 3 way gun fights between differing factions could certainly fall easily into this category, but Safe treads the tightrope between the ludicrous, and Bourne-esque ultra realistic violence exceptionally well, without ever taking itself too seriously.
Yakin has quite a mixed CV, having worked on the mildly successful Prince of Persia, and American football drama, Remember the Titans, but also having the dubious honour of being credited as the writer of the 1989 Dolph Lundgren starring adaptation of The Punisher. However, perhaps those credits are misleading, as he has clearly found his niche here, with a straightforward action film. As both the writer, and the director, it very much is Yakin’s vision, and it is a perfect vehicle for Statham. There are a number of perfectly tongue-in-cheek one-liners throughout, in fact so much so that they help to gloss over some of the plot holes that exist and the convenience of the film’s ending, all delivered in supremely dry fashion by Statham.
Safe is not the sort of film that will win Oscars, if nothing else because of its genre, but like any good action film it is entertaining, features some cracking chase sequences, and in this instance has a surprisingly good plot. It’s not perfect, and it’s probably not going to convert any non –believers to becoming massive Statham fans, but to those who are willing to watch this film without prejudice and take it for what it is, it’s safe to say you’ll get your money’s worth.