‘Safe’ treads familiar action ground… but has a few good punches

Jason Statham stars in 'Safe'
Jason Statham stars in ‘Safe’

Mei (Catherine Chan) is an extraordinary child in an ordinary schoolroom in China.

Her father disappeared long ago, her mother is ill, but she has an incredible brain.  One that processes information faster than most computers, and she can remember anything, instantly.  As a result she’s to be relocated to a special school, but before that can happen, she’s taken by a crime organization (we’re never told if it’s the Triads, or the Tongs, or what) and told that she will work for them or they will have her mother killed.

Her new “Uncle Han” (James Hong) is both brutal and kind with the girl.  She is sent to New York City, with the help of a corrupt NYPD Police Captain (Robert John Burke) and soon functions as the recordkeeper for all of the organization’s enterprises in New York City.

Luke Wright (Jason Statham) is a down on his luck cage-fighter.  The events of his most recent fight and how they ended up going, as opposed to how they were supposed to go has earned him the ire of a Russian mobster.  This mobster takes his revenge on Wright in an unusual way, trying to make every moment of remaining alive a living hell on Earth.

Mei is given a number to memorize, along with orders.  She’s to go to a second location, memorize a second number, then go to yet another location and follow instructions.  Only she never gets to the second location, as the Russians attempt to steal her from the Chinese in a sudden, violence-fraught confrontation.  She escapes to the subway where she’s being pursued.  It is then that Luke sees her and her peril.  He decides to intervene and to take her to safety.

Now, the Russians want the girl and her number.  The Chinese want the girl and her number back.  The corrupt cops, led by that captain, get wind of the fact the girl knows something worth a lot of mone and they want her. Everyone wants her and Wright has her.

The struggle to get her back, and to get to whatever is behind that first number, and whatever is there for the taking wherever that second location is, is the ’meat’ of writer/director Boaz Yakin’s story.  Not the best story ever for an action-adventure tale, but it’s enough for the smashing, punching, kicking and shooting that Statham’s “Wright” will be engaged in from this point forward.

Because Luke Wright isn’t just a down on his luck, cage fighter.  He’s a former New York cop who blew the whistle on some corrupt cops (yes, the same ones who want the girl, coincidence??) and he’s among the baddest of the bad-asses around.  His “special” background will become clear as the film progresses.

There are a number of fight sequences, some in the streets, some indoors, some with guns, some with hand to hand.  All can best be described in one word as “tight.”  Director Yakin gets the camera in close to the action and as a result it appears more intense and more violent.  Statham’s forte is his physicality and his ability to punch and kick and he uses all of his skills to their best effect in these sequences.  But he’s also better than average in his interactions with the child he’s chosen to save, and in how they work together to solve the mystery of the number and what it really represents.

This is just another in the long-line of popcorn action films.  It really deserves a rating of 2.5 rather than 3, but I felt more generous due to the attempt to make it appear Statham speaks Russian well, the wisdom they manage to instill into a 12 year old girl who has had a hard life, and the clever ending, which comes as a surprise.

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