★ / ★★★★
Just when Luke Wright (Jason Statham), a homeless man, was about to jump in front of a moving train, he noticed a terrified Chinese girl attempting to hide from a group of Russian gangsters. Recognizing one of them as one of his wife’s killers, he decided to set aside his suicide attempt and get revenge. Mei (Catherine Chan), taken from mainland China to New York City’s Chinatown, had an excellent aptitude for math as well as a photographic memory, an ability that a Chinese gangster leader (James Hong) valued highly for his schemes. Caught in a tug-of-war between the Chinese and the Russians–and, eventually, crooked cops–Luke and Mei tried to survive and come out on top. “Safe,” written and directed by Boaz Yakin, was far from a first-rate action piece because it oozed of conventionality, from a main character who was supposed to be carrying a heavy weight of anger and guilt to the shoot ’em up sequences that mistook high decibels for thrills. Setting up the story prior to the chance meeting of Luke and Mei proved laborious. With such a watered down and repetitive dialogue, every time a character spoke, I found myself losing more interest by the minute and wondering when it was going to deliver something so special that I would be jolted into investing more into what was happening. I wasn’t sure whether Luke’s background was simply uninspired or it had no inspiration at all. Surely different elements were plucked from other bona fide action films but it seemed to have no identity of its own. It couldn’t be denied that the writer-director wanted us to care for its protagonist. However, every so-called sad moment felt very contrived, a one-dimensional but desperate manipulation to get us to buy into the phoniness on screen. Statham’s charisma prevented the picture from drowning completely into its own humdrum formula. His physicality became increasingly attractive with every punch and kick thrown at his targets. But it was in the one playful scene where he was able to shine. Watching Statham perform is always a pleasure because he commands a great seriousness that is necessary for us to believe that, in most characters he plays, he is a figure who is out for blood. However, what separates him from wannabe action stars is his ability to break from that seriousness and deliver a smile and lightheartedness while retaining that belief in us that he’s still a badass. The part when Luke ate a sandwich so teasingly in front of the corrupt cops, who turned out to be his former colleagues, but found themselves unable to hurt him because they needed him was funny and engaging. The film needed more relaxed moments like that and less heavily edited–and boring–gun battle and hand-to-hand combat. Lastly, the relationship between Luke and Mei was not developed sufficiently. While putting a child in the middle of an action movie will always be a challenge because most child actors can only perform up to a certain level, the material never rose above that undertaking. Instead, Mei was absent during chunks of the film and was only summoned, sadly, when she needed to be interrogated. “Safe” was generic, convoluted, and not as entertaining nor engaging as it should have been. While its title had multiple meanings in the film, it could also function as a critique of itself.