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Non-Review Review: Safe

Safe is remarkably up-front about what it is. It’s a collection of action clichés strung out on a series of contrivances and coincidences that exist purely so Jason Statham can appear menacing and get involved in brutal fight sequences. There’s no surprise to be had in Safe, save perhaps the charm of Statham as a leading man and his wonderful chemistry with the debuting Catherine Chan. The movie’s never outside its comfort zone, but it manages to do what it sets out to do with a respectable efficiency and charm. While he does occasionally succumb to the rapid-fire editing that plague modern action movies, I think that it’s safe to say that Boaz Yakin is a much stronger director than he is a writer.

Looking for a Safe house…

In a way, the script for Safe feels like it emerged from the late eighties with a minimum amount of re-writes. Sure, there are already out-dated references to the September 11th attacks, but the story reads like it could have worked as a Sylvester Stallone vehicle back in the day. It’s a buddy action movie at its heart, and all the other ridiculous set-ups and contrivances are in service of that. The script sets its two lead characters – a Chinese maths prodigy and a grizzled former garbage man – through a ridiculous amount of exposition, but it really clicks once the pair are together.

To be fair, even Yakin seems a bit bored with all the exposition he front-loads his movie with as a writer, to the point where he rushes through it as a director. While the content of those opening few moments feels like one cliché after another, Yakin has a flair for transitioning his scenes. It feels like we’re getting the bullet-point summary of how our characters got where they are, rather than the full feature-length version. It’s lean, and it’s efficient. It’s also a little bit fun as Yakin jumps between scenes offering only a hint of context before we move on again. Once the movie settles down into its more conventional format, Yakin settles down a bit – and that’s a shame. I think that his action scenes might have worked even better if he adopted the same clipped approach to them.

Luking out for each other…

Of course, the real ace in the hole is Statham himself. Statham doesn’t necessarily have the most spotless professional record, but I’d make a heart-felt argument that he is the most consistent leading action star working today. He’s a very rare combination of actor and action hero, when most professionals have to specialise in one or the other. He did, after all, begin his career in Guy Ritchie films. Luke Wright, our protagonist de jour, is a walking mess of clichés. “Luke Wright is a ghost,” we’re told at one point. “A deadly ghost.” However, he’s also an atoner, seeking redemption for some earlier transgressions. He’s a cage fighter, better than the vast majority of his opponents, but he simply lets them pound on him “like a piece of meat.” He’s strong, he’s silent, and he’s swore to a life of non-violence. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

So we witness Wright stumble through humiliation and embarrassment, as he accepts punishment from people he could easily tear limb from limb. It’s not a new or original story, and while Statham can’t quite sell it as such, he does his best to keep us entertained. It’s hard to imagine anybody working the lines he’s given as well as Statham does. “Your information was wrong,” he tells a goon at one point. “I never collected garbage.” Beat. “I disposed of it.” Bang. Approaching another goon at a bar, he muses, “I never know what to say at times like this.” When the goon falls for the rather obvious bait and walks blindly into a one-liner and Statham’s fist by asking what he means, the hero replies, “Right before I kill a man.”

The Wright stuff…

To the credit of Statham and Yakin, neither seems to really take it all too seriously. There are some wonderful laugh-out-loud moments provided by Statham’s under-rated comic timing, and the movie seems to acknowledge its contrivance by playing music that sounds remarkably like the iconic Mission: Impossible Theme the first time that Wright “reveals” himself as a force to be reckoned with. It seems appropriate when the character goes from homeless and alcoholic to swinging off the roof of the train in the space of about two minutes.

Unfortunately, the movie does seem to take itself a little too seriously at other times, especially when it tries to portray the NYPD as a gang. Apparently all the corrupt cops in New York have unionised and can collectively bargain for higher kickbacks all over the city. There doesn’t seem to be a hint of irony as the cops turn out to be gangsters in uniform with squad cars. There are times when it feels a little bit like GTA, as the movie features a bunch of clichés warring over a macguffin while our plucky lead manipulates them against one another.

Just to cap it all off…

That said, the movie works surprisingly well when it pairs Statham with newcomer Catherine Chan as the pint-sized number wizard. The dynamic of a seasoned professional and a relatively innocent child has been covered before, and better, but Statham and Chan work well enough together that we can look past it. The pair banter remarkably well, almost making up for dreck like, “I didn’t save you; you saved me.” It feels like an affectionate throwback to the shallow buddy action films of the late eighties, and I mean that in the most affectionate way possible.

Safe isn’t essential viewing. It doesn’t offer too much more than what it promises. Its script and its plotting are a complete mess, although Yakin proves a much stronger director, even if he does fall back on quick-fire editing just a little too often. Still, if you can surprise the eye-rolling reflex, it’s an enjoyable little action flick, improved dramatically through the presence of Statham and some nice chemistry with a young actress in her first appearance. It’s not the most brilliant or exciting action film you’ll see, but it does fill a niche for the moment, and those looking for a no-frills-attached action film could do a lot worse.

2 Responses

  1. I’ll save myself the trouble and money of seeing it, but thanks for the warning. I’d rather you just kept seeing the best you can find to see as I love reading you.

    • Thanks Abbey! I am actually quite happy to see just about anything, if only because I don’t know where I’ll find a gem. And it doesn’t drain me too much. I try to balance films, television, opinions, etc.

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