Rating: 3.5 out of 4
Tagline: She has the code. He is the key.
Directed by: Boaz Yakin
Starring: Jason Statham, Catherine Chan, Chris Sarandon, Robert John Burke, Anson Mount and James Hong.
THE PLAN: Mei is a brilliant young Chinese girl who has been kidnapped by a merciless crime boss because of her talent with numbers. Luke Wright is a former cop whose life is just about meaningless. When the two encounter one another by chance, they suddenly find themselves in the crosshairs of just about every slimy villain in New York City.
THE KILL: SAFE just doesn't give a f*ck. It's an old-school badboy in the gritty mold of the 90s, New York-set thrillers where one man had to go up against not one but two vicious gangs, as well as corrupt cops and crooked politicians. The whole city is going up against our hero, and he's gonna get through it – one bullet at a time. It's like it owns the plot of some long lost Steven Seagal flick, and I mean that as a compliment.
Our protagonist is Luke Wright (Jason Statham), a down-on-his-luck drifter in New York City. Luke's past is a mystery, but we gather that he once toiled as a punching-bag in MMA for the Russian mob... until the day he decided he didn't want to do that anymore. Before that, he was a cop whose specialty was clearing the streets of the city's most undesirable scumbags. And before that...? Let's just say that this dirty hobo has moves like Jason Statham for a reason.
Statham just doesn't understand High-Fives.
Luke's decision to turn against the Russian mafia had dire consequences; his life was wiped out in an instant, and his current existence is something of a cruel joke that's watched over with amusement by his enemies. He's almost on the verge of calling it quits, of meeting a rushing subway train head on, but the strange emergence of a small Asian girl, looking frightened and alone, snaps him out of it. Coincidentally, she's being pursued by the same Russian goons who ruined his life (there are a lot of coincidences in this film like that), and while feeling something other than despair for the first time in a long time, Luke decides to put his life on the line by saving hers.
Writer-director Boaz Yakin takes his time in the film's first act, setting up a bevy of sleazy characters, which include the Russians, the Chinese mob (who use the little girl as something of a human calculator, because she just happens to be a genius), and a swarm of dirty cops. There are so many slimeballs in SAFE that you feel sort of grimy just watching it.
"Sorry for shootin' ya, kid, but let's not make a big deal out of it..."
What's so refreshing about SAFE is that it revels in its own preposterousness but keeps a straight face. It apologizes not a bit for its manic energy or the brazenly ridiculous plot twists that keep on piling up until the very end. You feel like you've been transported back to the days when movies allowed themselves to just be lean, mean and unironic. This is one of those flicks where gangs war with each other in the middle of the street every few minutes, 90% of the cops line their pockets with illegally obtained funds, and only one man can take them all down, all in the name of redemption and morality.
TOP ACTION: An improbable shoot-out inside a major hotel is a real hoot. Lots of heedless murder!
TOP DEATH: One unlucky fellow gets a fork in the throat.
TOP DIALOGUE: A great threat from Staham's character to a mob boss regarding the latter's son: “I'm going to do things to him that will make me ashamed to look in the mirror afterward.”
HOMOEROTIC MOMENT: The Mayor of NY (who is also, of course, a corrupt bastard) happens to have an inappropriate relationship with his male aid... who also happens to be a sonofabitch!
FEMALE EXPLOITATION: Unfortunately, not much in this department. A few classy prostitutes show up, but nothing pause-worthy.
DRINKING GAME: Drink every time you think, “Jesus, New York hasn't had this rough of a time since the last time Roland Emmerich was in town.”
TRIVIA: A large portion of SAFE was shot in Pennsylvania.