PLOT: When a young girl named Mei is taken from her family she is asked to memorize a series of numbers. Once she has, she is sent to deliver the secret code to New York so there will be no trace of what she knows aside from what is in her head. When she escapes her captors, an ex-cage fighter named Luke Wright comes to her aid only to be caught up in the deadly affair. To shelter the girl, he must protect her from dirty cops, the Russian mafia and the ones who kidnapped her in the first place. Wright takes it upon himself to make sure that he and the girl are… SAFE!
It’s easy to pick on a new Jason Statham flick. They usually feature the action star having to fend off a number of guys with guns facing impossible odds. He must punch, kick and hit them all until they are either dead or injured in order to save someone else, or possibly just himself. Yet very few actors can do what Statham does as well as he can. With his snarling accent and his piercing gaze – not to mention his ability to kick serious ass – he has a dangerous yet charismatic appeal. In his latest film SAFE, he offers up fans exactly what they love about him while adding a few layers here and there.
Luke Wright (Statham) was a second-rate cage fighter who killed a guy with one single punch when he should have taken a hit and lost the game. In retribution, the Russian mafia murders Luke’s family and threatens to kill anybody he talks to, which proves to be a viable threat. He is a miserable soul on the brink of destruction that has had everything taken away from him. Meanwhile, a gifted young girl named Mei (Catherine Chan) is taken away from her mother so she can be used to deliver a series of numbers. Mei has a brilliant memory, one which some really bad dudes plan to exploit. They are so desperate they are willing to destroy anybody that attempts to help remove the young girl from this wretched situation.
When she arrives in New York, Mei is able to sneak away from the clutches of her captors, and she finds an unlikely savior in Luke. He notices the young girl being followed in a subway station. With his heart in the right place, he helps save the girl from the men chasing after her in an intense fight sequence. Once he takes her under his wing, the pursuit is on and everybody from dirty cops to the Russian mafia is after the unlikely pair. With so many bad guys, it seems that Mei and Luke don’t have a chance in hell to escape, but don’t forget who we are dealing with here. This is a Jason Statham flick full force and he pounds a number of brutes in order to protect someone he discovers is worth saving.
Writer/director Boaz Yakin clearly realizes what kind of film he is making. And it is all the better for it. The fights are especially well choreographed and the action is certainly extreme for much of the film. However the director adds just a little bit of class to the proceedings. First off, the two main characters don’t meet until nearly thirty minutes into the story. The first part of SAFE follows both Mei and Luke as they both are in separate, yet equally dismal circumstances. You know the inevitable connection will be made, and when they finally do meet it will surely meet the expectations of Statham fans. In fact, this is Statham at his best. Luke is a more layered character as opposed to what he is used to. This makes him an interesting hero looking to do right by this innocent girl.
As far as child actors go, Catherine Chan is really terrific and holds her own alongside her co-star. While it may come as a surprise that both she and Statham spend very little time of the film together, their chemistry is especially solid. Both actors make for a very believable and sympathetic bond. Sure many of the villains feel slightly clichéd and generic, but when you have Chris Sarandon chewing the scenery as “Mayor Tremello,” you know you are in for some fun times.
SAFE may not be groundbreaking but it is an exciting ride for fans of the genre. Will it win over those not familiar with Statham’s work? Maybe not… nevertheless Jason is given a few challenges here with his performance and he rises to the occasion. Shot in Manhattan, the New York grittiness is a welcome backdrop for Luke and Mei as they are chased down by nearly every single person they run into. The brawls and bullets are fast enough, even when the story slows down a bit to connect with Mei (or for that matter Wright). Thankfully the two actors are good enough to create a very sympathetic situation. It’s SAFE to say that action fans will love it… really couldn’t resist with that one. This isn’t high art and it doesn’t need to be. What it is is an effectively stirring action flick that makes it easy to see why Statham has developed the following he has.