Film Review: Safe
Question: how much is a hero worth?
Answer: Half as much as the villain, and here’s why.
A hero, protagonist, main character-whatever is only as empathetic when he or she is getting the punishment of a lifetime. That’s why you care and the fact that Jason Statham is the last person you’d expect to be stranded halfway up sh#t creek is probably the genius stroke of Safe, a junky exploitation thriller with a heart. Or more appropriately, the fact that it does this for at least the first two acts is worth some commendation.
From the get go the picture grabs you, wall to wall bad guys step in to ruin the lives of ex-cop Luke Wright (look right, geddit?) and Mei. Catherine Chan’s young semi-savant has to contend with being exploited by Russian and Chinese mobsters (featuring Indiana Jones goon Igor Jijikine and cult cinema man of many onscreen slimeballs, James Hong) and Statham has the Russian crew who’ve just murdered his wife and his old bent-cop buddies stomping on his self-esteem, and his face. On top of that, the two of them are eventually caught up in a racketeering scam that runs all the way to the mayor’s office (Chris Sarandon sleazing up every single minute he’s onscreen). It’s the kind of corruption ridden thriller that just about made the 70’s and 80’s live and breathe (Death Wish and Magnum Force of course among them) and certainly it’s refreshing for an actioner of this stature to take legitimate liberties with the wellbeing of its characters.
As for those characters, we’re dealing with purpose built protagonists. A man with one too many scars and a girl who knows too much. Two-dimensional? Of course, but with a purpose. Jason Statham, like Arnie, Sly and Van Damme before him is best served playing uncomplicated men with uncomplicated missions. Here he’s handed some grit, whether it be donating his worn out Converse to a vagrant with gangrenous feet at a homeless shelter to puking his guts up after offing some thugs. The accent on the other hand, well this instance of the ‘Stath’ trying for a transatlantic twang doesn’t fall on its face as hard as it did in Jet Li’s The One, but even when he’s aiming for New York Irish you’ll wish he just went for his usual Cockney. Other than that, he’s mustard. The interplay between Luke and Mei is slight; it doesn’t hold a candle to the escapades of Leon and Mathilda in Leon (aka The Professional) and is mostly played for narrative convenience. But there are a couple of charming details in the interactions between the two of them; Luke wants more information from Mei. He turns off a TV Mei is watching, Mei turns it back on etc.
The film thankfully leaves the fightback right until the final act; in fact it’s the culmination of the caper which packs the least punch. The damp squib of a finale is mostly due to an inconsequential intro of a minor villain and a surprising deficit in stakes in which the story resolves itself as a non-event. Besides the lacklustre closure, there is enough to keep you gripped in the first and second acts to keep you enthralled. If the film had the conviction to round everything off with a climax as harsh as its build-up, this could’ve been Statham’s best. It gets valiantly close though.