Mark Reviews Movies

Safe (2012)

SAFE (2012)

1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Boaz Yakin

Cast: Jason Statham, Catherine Chan, Robert John Burke, James Hong, Chris Sarandon, Anson Mount, Joseph Sikora, Reggie Lee, Sándor Técsy

MPAA Rating: R (for strong violence throughout, and for language)

Running Time: 1:34

Release Date: 4/27/12

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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 26, 2012

I cannot think of a more apt title for this movie. Safe is generic, unimaginative, and, yes, safe. It is a product fashioned from an assembly line of formula, cutout characters, and bits of dialogue that really must be heard to be believed.

The movie's principal selling point is also its biggest crime. It stars Jason Statham, an actor of fairly limited range but of seemingly limitless machismo and who possesses more charisma than is really necessary for a man who primarily makes his living beating people to bloody pulp on camera, and gives him pretty much nothing of interest to do.

Yes, he drives a car really fast in one sequence, shoots a lot of people as bullets fly around him in many others, and gets into a fight here and there; he even allows a single tear to fall as the camera pushes in to a tight close-up of his face as he burns with a combination of rage and complete helplessness. That last one might be new for him; honestly, it compels me to rethink the "limited range" comment.

What we really want from a movie like this, which features Russian mobsters and dirty cops and a little girl with a secret that everyone wants and more than prepared to kill for, is for Statham to beat people up really well. Instead, the screenplay by writer/director Boaz Yakin gives us everything from the aforementioned list plus Chinese gangsters and a corrupt mayor and a string of MacGuffins in which Yakin actually believes the audience is interested. We're not; that's why it's called a MacGuffin.

The first here is a string of numbers (the MacGuffin Sequence) that a young math prodigy named Mei (Catherine Chan) memorizes for her boss Han Jiao (James Hong), the leader of the Chinese underworld who has kidnapped the girl and brought her to New York City to keep track of his illegal enterprises. The numbers only exist in her memory, so when the Russian mob comes after them, Mei's "adoptive father" Chang (Reggie Lee) is prepared to shoot her in the head to keep anyone else from getting them. He also forces her to watch a casino manager get beaten and executed, just in case we didn't realize they're the bad guys.

They're not the only ones, either. A professional fighter named Luke Wright (Statham) is in his own mess. He was supposed to take a fall but instead put his opponent in a coma. Now the head of the Russian mob (Sándor Técsy) wants Luke to pay for his error and sends his mad-dog of a son Vassily (Joseph Sikora) to handle things. Luke walks into his home to discover his pregnant wife murdered and a gang of thugs with guns. Vassily informs him of his punishment: He won't kill him; instead, he will let him live with his misery, alone and unknown.

A year later, Luke is living from homeless shelter to homeless shelter, and Mei obtains those numbers. Just as he's about to kill himself by jumping in front of a subway train, Luke notices Mei hiding from some Russian mobsters and decides that he will protect her no matter what.

That's when everyone starts coming out of the woodwork. Jiao wants the girl so he can use the numbers to get more numbers. The Russian mob wants the girl so that they can interfere with their rivals' plans. Captain Wolf (Robert John Burke), the head of the task force for dirty cops, wants the girl because his two best clients want her, and surely she must have something valuable. The mayor (Chris Sarandon) and his assassin partner (Anson Mount) are entangled in the mess, too. Through a bit of completely illogical inference from the repetition of two numbers in the random sequence, Luke discovers that the numbers are actually the combination to a safe and eventually decides to play all the sides against each other. They don't need the push.

Yakin's script is full of needless exposition, as Luke's backstory is bludgeoned home by a character and each and every MacGuffin gets its own wordy explanation (in one ear and out the other), and such groaners as Luke saying he's only been served lead at the restaurants he's been to as of late. Most of the supporting cast sounds bored by the material, and Luke acts with complete, unbelievable impunity, killing people and attacking cops in broad daylight in front of multiple onlookers.

We might be able to forgive some of these transgressions if the movie were at least a little fun, but even the action sequences in Safe are habitual. The chase going the wrong way down a one-way street seems implanted, and the excessive cuts during the brawls and shootouts turns them into little more than a series of punches, kicks, and dives (There are two moments with some humor within them—pulling a guy groin-first into a pole and tossing a fine china plate into a man's throat). The movie can't even bring itself to fulfill the promise of an irrational fight in the climax. Then again, given how everything goes until that point, perhaps that's a blessing in disguise.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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