Jason Statham plays it safe in this uninspired action flick that steps straight out of the 1980s, ignoring thirty years worth of advances in narrative structure.
If the name Boaz Yakin seems familiar, it is possible you need to start watching a better class of film. A veteran with only six directorial credits under his belt, he is better “known” for his writing. Going all the way back to The Punisher (1989), with a brief highlight of directorial debut Fresh (1994), his filmography is peppered with sequels and adaptations, including From Dusk Til Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (1999), Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights (2004) and the admittedly underrated Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010). Safe may be the culmination of that life’s work.
Abducted from her home in China after displaying brilliant math skills, Mei (Catherine Chan) is sent to work for the Triad in New York. She soon finds herself caught in a war between the Triad, the Russian mob and corrupt NYC cops when she is asked to commit an important number to memory. Temporarily escaping their custody, she is aided by ex-cage fighter Luke Wright (Jason Statham), who is now destitute thanks to the Russians.
Safe is a throwback to the kind of action films that haven’t been made in three decades, and reminds us that there is a reason for that. Not moving on from his fairly forgettable 1980s take on Marvel’s The Punisher, Yakin seems to have cherry-picked his favourite things from the decade, right down to the presence of veteran character actor James Hong (Blade Runner, Big Trouble in Little China) as a Chinese gangster. The simple character archetypes leave little room for ambiguity, with Statham unequivocally the Good Guy and the mob collectives are filled with very, very bad men. All other characters, from crooked cops to corrupt officials, are wholly familiar constructs. Statham might actually be one of the last action heroes, a relic of a cinema that treated its muscle men as gods, before unceremoniously dumping them direct to video and occasionally reunite them for the unabashedly retro The Expendables.
Not necessarily a bad film, Safe is an incredibly uninspired one. Yakin creates a vision of New York that only ever existed in the movies, and one that was only found on the cinematic mean streets of the 1970s and 1980s. While individual elements of action are well-staged, including a fist-fight on a train and a few car chases, they make all other elements seem perfunctory. Laughable dialogue is the type familiar to connoisseurs of the genre, but here Yakin seems to have gone the extra mile and equips Statham with as many lame puns as there are henchmen in the Big Apple. There was a solid action film in here somewhere, but having failed to achieve this in what feels like a first draft of a movie, Yakin may instead achieve cult status with an unintentional comedy.
Safe is released in Australia on 10 May 2012 from Icon.