Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Movie Review: Safe

Safe **
Directed by: Boaz Yakin.
Written by: Boaz Yakin.
Starring: Jason Statham (Luke Wright), Catherine Chan (Mei), Robert John Burke (Captain Wolf), James Hong (Han Jiao), Anson Mount (Alex Rosen), Chris Sarandon (Mayor Tremello), Sándor Técsy (Emile Docheski), Joseph Sikora (Vassily Docheski), Igor Jijikine (Chemyakin), Reggie Lee (Quan Chang).

Does anyone other than me remember Boaz Yakin’s brilliant debut film Fresh, made way back in 1994? That film was one of the best of the number of films made in the early to mid-1990s about young, black men living in the inner city who are involved with gangs and drugs. It was a quiet, introspective film and completely unique. I couldn’t help but think about how great Fresh is when I was watching his latest film, Safe. Both concentrate on extremely bright children involved in crime and the mean streets of New York City. But Safe is everything Fresh was not – loud, action driven and clichéd. I knew that could be the case based on the previews – after all, you don’t cast Jason Statham for quiet introspection. Still, I can’t help but be disappointed.

Safe is about Luke Wright (Statham), who runs afoul of the Russian Mafia when he wins a cage fight he was supposed to throw. Yet instead of killing Wright, they decide to torture him endlessly instead – they murder his beloved wife and tell him that they will be watching him. Anyone he comes into contact with that he builds any sort of relationship with, they will kill them. And it will be all Luke’s fault. This is his reality for a few years and he follows the rules. That is until he meets Mei (Catherine Chan).

Mei was kidnapped from her school in China by Uncle Han (James Wong) and sent to New York with Chang (Reggie Lee). They do this because her mind works like a computer – it remembers everything. And for a Chinese crime lord, this is great, because they can use her to like a computer – without any trail for cops to follow. The latest thing they have asked Mei to remember is a long string of numbers – a code. The Russians, the same ones who hate Luke naturally, want that number, and attack the Chinese. Mei escapes to the subway, where Luke sees her, and realizes she is in trouble – and decides to stand up for her. So now, he has to battle the Russians, the Chinese and oh yeah, a bunch of dirty cops, who also hate Luke, and want the girl.

Safe fits neatly into the body of work Statham has been building for years now. He stars in these B-action movies, where he is essentially a killing machine. Whether it’s the Transporter movies, the Crank movies, The Expendables, Killer Elite, The Mechanic or anything else he’s been in, he is essentially playing the same character – the quiet loner who can turn himself into a killing machine. Some of his movies are good, most of them are not, but he certainly has a screen persona that he has cultivated.

Safe has a lot of action sequences, and to be fair, most of them are well handled by Yakin. If nothing else, Safe will provide you with the old school car chases, gun battles and hand to hand combat sequences, without much aid of CGI, that fans of Statham’s have come to expect. And if that’s all you want, than I suppose you can say that Safe delivers.

But I want more from even genre movies like this. The movie never really takes a surprising step for its entire running time – you know what is going to happen before anyone in the movie does. As a result, I never really got drawn into Safe. As an exercise in action filmmaking, Safe is just fine. But from Boaz Yakin, who looked to be such a promising filmmaker after Fresh, and his 1998 follow-up A Price Above Rubies (not a great film, but an honest, interesting one, with one of Renee Zellweger’s best performances), it is yet another disappointment. I cannot help but be disappointed when I know a filmmaker is capable of so much more than they deliver.

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