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Review: Safe – Old action heroes never die, they just outsource to China

Safe PosterIn the new action movie Safe, the Chinese mob doesn’t use child labor to make computers and electronic devices; they just use a child as the actual computer (shhh…do not let Apple find out about this!) With this kind of new technology, everyone’s going to want a piece of it, and it’s up to an American (well…British) hero to save the day and the kid in this all-out average action flick.

Because they don’t leave a paper trail, a walking, talking kid-computer is the preferred mobile technology of the Chinese mob, who kidnaps an 11 year-old girl-genius (Catherine Chan) and brings her to New York City to keep tabs on their illegal business ventures. When the girl is asked to memorize the coded numbers on a piece of paper (there goes the “no paper trail” plan) she becomes the center of a struggle between the Chinese gangsters, the Russian mob, corrupt NYC cops and reluctant good-guy Luke Wright (Jason Statham), who are all trying to extract the valuable numbers from her head in one way or another.

How the Statham character gets mixed-up in all this is a confusing and convoluted path. He was once some sort of “problem-solving” specialist that was recruited by the NYPD and the city’s Mayor, but he had a falling out with city officials and ended-up as a cage boxer, throwing fights for the highest-bidder until he takes a fall on the wrong side of the Russian mafia. The Ruskies then kill his pregnant wife and promise to make him suffer by also killing anyone he comes into contact with. He then, of course, comes into contact with the young girl, Mei, who is at the center of everything.

The supporting cast of Safe includes James Hong, who is easily recognizable and has been in everything from Blade Runner to Kung Fu Panda. He has a lot of fun playing his part as the Chinese mob boss and is one of the standouts in this film. Anson Mount is good as Statham’s main rival in the film, but he is almost unrecognizable from his role as Cullen Bohannan on the television series Hell on Wheels.  The film was written and directed by Boaz Yakin (Remember the Titans) who can be blamed for its sporadic awkwardness.

SafeThere are some very odd moments in this movie that felt completely out of place; moments when I wondered if I had missed something or just didn’t “get it.” One instance involves our hero chasing on top of and through a moving subway car to prevent the Russians from grabbing the little girl, when suddenly the hero stops between the cars and is off-camera throwing-up (I think) for what seems like an extended period of time, right in the middle of an intense action sequence. I’m no big fan of watching people puke, but I’m all for showing some vulnerability in our hero – I just really don’t know what he was doing there.

There is also a labored and extended scene without edits when the camera closes in for an extreme close-up of Statham’s eyes as he pushes out one tear of anger and sadness for his fallen wife (who we never see.)  Statham has the acting skills (see The Bank Job) as well as the karate chops (see The Transporter) to cover a wide range of cinematic style, but this bit was painfully forced.

While most of this movie is by-the-book standard action fare, it does have some inventive cinematography and it also has a great unexpected ending. Jason Statham has developed a following that rivals Steven Seagal’s and Jean-Claude Van Damme’s in their respective heydays, but he’s easily a better actor than both of those action veterans combined (I think that’s a compliment.) Fans know that when you go to an action-movie like Safe, you can generally expect a contrived plot and exaggerated performances, so some missteps are forgivable. You’re not watching this for the high-drama, you’re into this film for the fights, the shoot-outs, the stunts and the tough-guy one-liners; and this film certainly delivers on all those counts.

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About the author

Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.