Safe is like a poor man’s Mercury Rising – a film I never thought I’d reference, let alone compare favourably to anything. Ugly in both sentiment and style, it stars the undiscerning Jason Statham (The Bank Job) as an ex-cop, hit-man, cage-fighter, hobo and – why not – trash collector who’s forced to take on a cocktail of Manhattan’s scummiest scumbags in order to protect the life of an eleven-year old Chinese savant. Improbably plotted, pointlessly violent, visually unpleasant and overall just kind of dull, the film ranks well towards the bottom of Statham’s action movie oeuvre… although it’s still well ahead of In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale.
The needlessly convoluted plot, which I’ll acknowledge for the sake of appearances, follows a little girl named Mei (Catherine Chan) with a photographic memory, who is forced by the Chinese mafia to memorize the combination to a safe. Unfortunately for her, the contents of the safe are of value to a lot of unscrupulous people – not only the Triads, but the Russian mob and a corrupt contingent of The New York City Police Department, all of whom would cut off her head if it meant getting the data inside. Enter into this equation Luke Wright (Statham), a man whose own long-winded back-story has left him with little affection for any of Mei’s pursuers. Violence and mayhem ensue.
Writer/director Boaz Yakin has done a remarkable job sucking all the fun out of the action movie genre. The crooks in this movie are vile without reason, and while Statham does end up killing most of them, the genericness of the carnage – and the wobbly incompetence with which it is shot – ensures there is little thrilling about the violence. Anything that might have been gained from filming on location is lost thanks to the dreadful cinematography and woeful digital effects. Combine that with the cabal of mobsters, dirty cops and even dirtier politicians and the city has never looked worse.
Statham is typically scowley, but there’s very little about his character latch onto. Wrights one-dimensionally heroism is as boring as the baddies’ one-dimensionally villainy, and for all the time given to his past relationships with the gangsters and the cops in flashbacks at the beginning of the film, one doesn’t really care whether any of it pays off. His relationship with Mei is similarly underwritten, and Chan’s flat, unconvincing performance certainly doesn’t help. When your audiences doesn’t care if the child lives or dies, you know your movie’s got problems.