Jason Statham has become an action hero. He started out in life as a [soccer] player and diver until he was spotted by a talent agent and started modeling. Because of the darker moments in his past, he came to the notice of Guy Ritchie and played as an underworld character for his first two movies (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch. (2000)). Apparently he’s got a martial arts background and moved on to action flicks where he performs his own stunts. And now he stars in “it was just fun” actioneers. It’s a living.
Safe (2012) is about Mei (Catherine Chan), a genius Chinese girl, who has…no wait, it’s about gritty cage-fighter Luke Wright (Jason Statham) who’s lost it all and the mob, with uncommon ingenuity and enforcement, played by Joseph Sikora, makes it so he’ll never get close to anyone ever again…no it’s about Mei again and she’s been taken by a different mob in China, played by veteran James Hong, to be their little computer. Ah, very smart, no paper trail (says the screenwriter/producer). No, this time the computer/ledger can talk. Hmm. Well, when things start going haywire, because they must, things go very haywire indeed and Mei gets some unsolicited protection from Mr. Wright (hehehe) and she’s all the luckier for it. Because Luke Wright, wait for it, has a past.
It’s not as cliché as I’m painting it. That is unless beating the crap out of people can be a cliché. The memorizing child, that’s a little more cliché. I’m not sure if it exists, but it’s a great device. Even so, it is oddly underused in this movie. The memorizing isn’t used for anything humorous or far afield. Just memorizing bits of easily knowable stuff with a little economic analysis thrown in. I guess it’s quicker, but I bet you can’t put her brain on the Cloud.
If you mess with time, you’re going to get confused. And needlessly. The movie starts out with a brief scene in the subway–one hour before–she’s in the Russian mobster’s room–one year before–she’s in China with friends being smart, then is kidnapped to work for a Chinese mob ring with a distrust of documentation (fair enough)–one year later–back in the US doing her thing. Come on. Just start at the beginning and continue on to the end. This isn’t mind-bending thriller, it’s an action movie. Just tell us the story. Yeah, I’m looking at you writer/director Boaz Yakin.
Speaking of writing, you may be misled by my choice of quotes to think this is stuffed with one-liners, but you’d be mostly mistaken. There are a fair few, but it’s no Lockout (2012) in either frequency or brilliance. But that’s not so much a problem because the dialogue, while mostly on the dreadful side of functional, is a rare occurrence. Mostly people are just being punched, kicked, or shot in the head. Tennessee Williams it ain’t.
This movie stands for the principle that anyone can be the bad guy. Here, the Mayor of New York City is involved in both high level and low level crime on a basically Godfather-like level. I was writing this murder mystery with a revolution subplot and I vexed about which country this revolution would occur in because I didn’t want to seem ignorant of foreign affairs. But really, you could make it a revolution in Martha’s Vineyard and the audience probably wouldn’t blink.
The movie relies upon the idea that New York City has this underbelly containing proto-Rod Blagojevich‘s dealing with a semi-civil war of warring nation-based gangs–The Russians, The Chinese, The Cops. It takes itself so seriously that you’ve got to buy in or be annoyed the whole time. I’m the buying type, so that wasn’t a problem. But the tone, which is part Cobra (1986), part Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), is a bit irritating.
There are two things in movies that are so easy, it seems, to get laughably wrong. One of those is relative foot speeds of chaser and chasee–shouldn’t he have caught up with that kid with the sprained ankle by now? The other is the relative speed of cars and their capacity for even greater speed–are they really going that fast weaving through oncoming traffic? Here, the noticeable oddity is Jake’s power to get even more speed out of the car by jamming his foot down on the pedal roughly as hard as he did the last time. I know the gas is actually an accelerator, but at some point, you’ve maxed out the car.
How were the performances? About what you’d expect. The little girl is precocious and that’s really all that’s required. Statham is angry and incredibly well-muscled and that’s really all that’s required. What do you want?
Bottom line: classic actioneer of many a head-shot. It was good. Was it great? Let’s take things one day at a time.