Publshed April 27th, 2012
By R. David
Rating a Jason Statham flick at this point can really only be done in relativity to his other films. Like other cinematic action heroes before him, particularly those of the‘80s and ‘90s, Statham is the sort of action star who essentially makes the same film each time out. The plot details and characters may change (even if ever so slightly), but it’s all just an excuse to watch the star take out the bad guys with whatever his particular brand of fun-to-watch fighting skills. Steven Seagal doesn’t have any films that will be confused as Oscar contenders but, at least in his earliest (and best) efforts, the cheap productions and lazy plotlines were easily forgiven because the star was so much fun to watch – the reasons why he was kicking butt didn’t so much matter as long as we got to see him bring his particular brand of fast-fisted hurt to a bunch of in-over-their-heads thugs. Statham is essentially Seagal for the new millennium. With stories that are just as typical (and improbable) he has nevertheless built a career on his strong-silent loner who prefers minding his own business until someone makes the mistake of waking the sleeping giant just beneath his cool exterior. Statham began his career as a breath-of-fresh air supporting character in films like “Snatch” and “The Italian Job” where he was often cast as the“muscle”, and provided a shot of adrenaline when called upon to goose the action sequences with his seemingly effortless head-cracking. Like Seagal before him, Statham barely seems to break a sweat dispatching several thugs at once. But ever since the “Transporter” made him an above-the-title action star, he’s essentially been staring in same film each time out, offering only the slightest variations on the same steely-cool tough guy.
His latest, “Safe”, is no exception. Those who can’t get enough of Statham and the type of character and film he has cornered the market on as of late will likely find it suitably entertaining. Those who dismiss him as just another dumb action star who makes the same movie over and over again will not likely see their minds changed here. Until he breaks the mold and turns in a film and performance that is a complete departure from the bulk of his filmography, the only way to appropriately gauge projects like “Safe” is in comparison to each other. Does it do anything different? Are there any surprises? How’s the story? The performances?
I’m happy to report, Statham fans, that while “Safe” may not be a great or in any way original movie as a whole, it certainly ranks in the upper tier of the Statham cannon. Statham is good here, though he gives the same performance he usually does. But unlike some films where he seems to be sleepwalking through his scenes, you can tell he’s trying to bring some gravitas to his character of a mixed martial arts cage fighter who fails to lose a rigged fight (don’t they always?) and as punishment, finds his wife and child murdered by the Russian mob, while he is spared, but banished from society, forced to live on the streets and never associate with anyone or forge any new relationships, or those people too will be killed. After the mob makes good on this threat, murdering a homeless man simply because Statham gives him a pair of shoes, he figures he – and everyone else – would just be better off if he offed himself. But then he sees some bad dudes chasing after a twelve-year-old Asian girl and he can’t help but rescue her. As it turns out, the little girl has some valuable information that the Chinese mafia, Russian mafia, and crocked cops playing both sides all want to get their hands on first. And so, just like that, the odds are against him, but that’s just the way he likes them (or whatever the poster probably says).
While the set-up (and most of what happens throughout) is pure action flick mechanics, you can feel the film at least trying to do something more than go through the usual motions. There are some attempts at plot twists and surprises. And though they often fail to convince or can be seen coming, it’s stillsomething. And despite the cliché-riddled scenarios and dialogue, “Safe” manages to be a fairly engrossing, if still completely implausible and by-the-numbers, thriller. You care enough about the characters and want to see how the action will play out, even though it all goes down pretty much the way it always does in this type of film. Credit mainly goes to the strong direction by Boaz Yakin (who also scripted). Though as a writer he’d be wise to exercise some more ambition than simply reworking the standards of the genre, as a director he has a keen eye for staging chase sequences and shootouts, as well as building tension and wringing emotion out of quitter scenes – even when his script fails him and these moments don’t quite pay off the way you’d hope.
“Safe” is also one of the grittier, nastier Statham vehicles – and mainstream action flicks in general, in a while. There is a refreshing lack of sentimentality to the violence, which is cartoonish, but no less impactful in its blood-splattered glory; just like the good old days of Seagal et al. “Safe” surprises by being a theatrically-released action film that doesn’t shy away from blood and severed limbs in order to chase a PG-13 rating (Cough, cough! “Transporter” series. Cough!), something of a rarity these days.
“Safe’s” title may be all too prophetic when it comes to the script, but as these standard issue Statham shoot ‘em ups go, it’s among his better efforts.
3 stars out of 4.