You rarely get a surprise when you visit the cinema intending to watch the latest Jason Statham movie. You know he’ll be bald and stubbly, his dialogue will be delivered in a very gruff accent, he’ll make a few sarcastic comments, and he’ll kick seven shades of shit out of nameless bad guys for 90 minutes.
And to be honest, it’s something he does extremely well. He is by no means a great actor, but I often feel that he is capable of more demanding roles than the ones he actually takes. His latest movie, Safe, is written and directed by Boaz Yakin (more on him later), features The Stath as an undercover New York cop and is not much of a stretch for him. But the movie begins with his character, Luke Wright (one of the more realistic character names he’s had recently) cage fighting in New Jersey, and angering Russian gangsters when he refuses to take a fall in fight, instead hospitalising his opponent. The Russians take revenge by killing his wife, and he’s forced to act like he’s homeless to stay out of their way and prevent the Russians from killing anyone he gets close to.
While this is happening to him, a young Chinese girl, Mei, has been forced to work for the Triads, because she is a mathematical genius, and they make her memorize a lengthy number that holds the key to a shady business deal. Things get complicated when the Russians decide they want that number, and complicated even further when some corrupt cops get involved too. Luke is considering suicide when he sees Mei trying to escape from the Russians, and decides to save her. From then on, Safe is a pretty brutal hour or so of The Stath kicking, punching and shooting his way in and out of danger, as he tries to protect the girl and stop the deal from happening.
As I mentioned, the movie is written and directed by Boaz Yakin, a man with a somewhat eclectic career. His filmography begins in 1989, when he wrote the first The Punisher movie, which starred Dolph Lundgren. Since then he’s written movies as diverse as The Rookie, a 1990 action movie directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, From Dusk Till Dawn 2 and Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, and most recently, Prince Of Persia: Sands of Time. Safe is the sixth movie he’s directed, with his most successful movie being Remember the Titans, a movie about racial tension on an American college football team, starring Denzel Washington. So it’s fair to say that Yakin’s career has been a bit all over the place.
While Statham’s character is a man trying to find redemption in Safe, this isn’t by any means a saccharine melodrama. It’s a pretty tough and brutal movie, with Statham in no mood for small talk, especially when he’s got a gun in his hand. Yakin’s script is filled with violence and mayhem, something Statham has no problem acting out on screen.
It takes Safe a little while to get going, with a slightly awkward opening that goes back and forth between the present day and the past to set up Luke’s rescue of Mei, but once he’s made the choice to protect her, the rest of the movie is more or less non-stop action. There are shootouts in restaurants, hotel lobbies and clubs, as Wright has to save the girl, find out what the numbers mean and fight off the Triads, Russians and NYPD.
There’s nothing particularly original or new about Safe, but there’s not a lot wrong with it either. The only real flaw with the film is making Statham’s character American. In most of his films he just uses his own accent, regardless of where and when the movie is set. He struggles to keep up an American accent throughout the film, usually just sounding like he normally does, particularly when he’s shouting (which happens a lot). But it’s not something that makes a big difference to the quality of the film. Safe, like most of Statham’s movies, isn’t great, but it’s certainly watchable and has all the elements required to make it entertaining.