Jason Statham as Luke Wright
Catherine Chan as Mei
Robert John Burke as Captain Wolf
James Hong as Han Jiao
Anson Mount as Alex Rosen
Chris Sarandon as Mayor Tremello
Sándor Técsy as Emile Docheski
Joseph Sikora as Vassily Docheski
Igor Jijikine as Chemyakin
Reggie Lee as Quan Chang
James Colby as Detective Mears
Matt O’Toole as Detective Lasky
Jack Gwaltney as Detective Reddick
Barry Bradford as Detective Benoit
Jay Giannone as Detective Kolfax
Directed by Boaz Yakin
Cage fighter Luke Wright (Jason Statham) is a man down on his luck, having gotten on the wrong side of the Russian mob when he didn’t throw a fight they bet on. After they kill his wife, he ends up homeless, but an encounter with a young Chinese girl named Mei (Catherine Chan), who is on the run both from the Russian and Chinese mob, puts Luke back into the thick of it as he finds a target on his back from them and the police.
We like a good Jason Statham action-thriller as much as the next guy, having found things to enjoy in the “Crank” and “Transporter” movies as well as more serious movies like “The Bank Job” and last year’s “Killer Elite,” so one has to wonder how bad “Safe” must be in order for us to not be as forgiving as we have been with his other films.
We’re introduced to Statham’s Luke Wright heaving just beaten a competitor into a coma in a Jersey cage match, but he was meant to take a dive and the Russian mob decides to teach him a lesson for the money he cost them. They kill his wife, framing him and forcing him to go into hiding. At the same time, we see the backstory of Mei, a young girl from China with a “computer brain,” able to remember complex numbers and do equally complex calculations in her head, making her valuable to the Chinese mob, who bring her to New York’s Chinatown to help her new “father” run his business.
The first half hour is split between following Luke and Mei’s journeys, and eventually, the two stories come together into something along the lines of “The Professional” or Statham’s own “The Transporter.” Except that nothing’s ever established to explain what would make this guy we’ve watched being a loner step up and risk his life to protect this little Chinese girl he sees hiding on the subway tracks. Everyone is trying to get their hands on Mei and the number she’s memorized, the combination for a safe containing $30 million dollars, and everyone wants it, from the Russian mobsters who killed Luke’s wife to a group of corrupt cops who also have it in for Luke, because you see, besides being a homeless cage fighter, Luke also used to be a police officer who ratted on some of his fellow police officers getting him thrown off the force.
The stuff with Statham is infinitely better than the stuff without him, and therein lies the first of many problems with “Safe,” because when you have Jason Statham starring in your movie, why would you spend even two minutes away from him?
It’s always fun watching Statham beat people up and he’s got a couple of fun action scenes–car chases, shootouts with unlimited bullets — but nothing we haven’t already seen a million times before and often done better. In between, it’s just boring, especially the good chunk of the movie that follows Mei with the Chinese mobsters who take her in. The only thing that makes these scenes even remotely watchable is the presence of James Hong of “Big Trouble in Little China” and “Seinfeld Four!” fame – just to give you some idea how little the movie has going for it when Statham isn’t on screen.
The screenplay is so filled with clichés and racial stereotypes you may wonder if this was an abandoned script from the ’90s or if it was meant as a period piece. The New York depicted is nothing like the real thing and Yakin’s plot is so convoluted with things that don’t necessarily work together.
Where things really start to get ridiculous is when we learn that the police corruption goes all the way up to the city’s mayor, played by Chris Sarandon, and in one of the most grueling and unnecessary scenes of exposition the movie offers, he tells his police chief about how dangerous Luke Wright is. You’d think the chief of police would know all about him if he was one of his officers, so who knows what the point is of that scene?
The movie relies so much on Statham to make it work that it just makes it that much more obvious how awful the rest of the cast is with many of the actors seeming to come straight out central casting, giving performances that make the terrible script seem even worse.
Yakin isn’t much better as a director, and even with such a bad script, there’s no excuse for allowing such bad acting work to make it to the final cut, but it’s even less excusable to have Jason Statham headlining your action movie and still failing to keep the audience entertained.
The Bottom Line:
Jason Statham is the best thing going for a movie full of bad cliché-driven writing which offers absolutely nothing new to the action genre beyond any of Statham’s previous films. The little bit of been-there seen-it action does little to save it.