Directed by Boaz Yakin
Opens April 27
"How come," a friend recently griped about Netflix's recommendation algorithms, "they don't have a category with movies about assassins who act as surrogate parents?" Talk about micro-genre, but it's a formula that works: sometimes you just want to see a movie about a killer and a misfit kid. Writer-director Boaz Yakin taps into this sentiment with the latest Jason Statham vehicle, Safe, an inconsistent film that doesn't disappoint because it never really clamors to be anything more than entertaining.
Statham plays some guy named Luke Wright, an honest ex-cop turned washed-up MMA fighter, but that doesn't matter because Statham never plays characters—Statham only ever plays Statham. Costumes are surplus to Jason Statham's ass-kicking as he has emerged as the last action hero in the age of the superhero film. Yakin is aware of his star's potential and casts him in a narrative that harkens back to the gritty NYC corruption-themed movies of the 1970s, when rival mob bosses, government officials and the police were all one in the same.
The script pushes Statham to Charles Bronson territory after Luke loses his pregnant wife and will to live in a first act thick with Velveeta-grade exposition. The Russian mob and Statham's corrupt former NYPD colleagues both want him dead, but prefer leaving him destitute, homeless, alone, with nowhere to go and no one to turn to. And that's where the kid comes in. Mei (Catherine Chan) is a scared 12-year-old mathematical genius from Beijing. She is brought to the United States by the Chinese mafia and is asked to memorize an intricate code of numbers that reveal access to a safe containing millions of dollars. Mei escapes has the Russian and Chinese mobs, along with the NYPD, hot on her trail. Fortunately, movie logic dictates that it won't take her long to run into the pro-bono protection of the Jason Statham, one-man-army. Ass kicking ensues.
Veteran action editor Frederic Thoraval keeps to a fast, fluid pace, transitioning seamlessly between plotlines and locations, always keeping the viewer informed and giving the many threads in the story resounding clarity. Yakin's direction is equally commendable, and compensates for the clunkier portions of his screenplay. He keeps the action close and the camera stable, opting for longer takes that emphasize the elaborately choreographed action sequences, and never especially stylizing the action. We can blame the stale dialogue and ludicrous storyline on genre conventions, that's fine: Safe might not be the type of film that is remembered twenty years (or months) from now, but that's what's so satisfying about watching it. It's another entertaining chapter in the impressively anachronistic career that Jason Statham has been able to carve out for himself. Yakin gives Safe a retro New York City feel because the movie couldn't have been made today with anyone other than Statham.