In the decade or so since Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Jason Statham’s film career has evolved from supporting act to leading man. With action-packed hits like Crank and Transporter, Statham has cultivated a loyal fan base and has successfully fashioned an entire career from high-octane stunts, Cockney one-liners and flimsy storylines.
No stranger to putting baddies in their place with a well-placed roundhouse kick or two, Statham’s latest venture Safe (directed by Boaz Yakin) sees him pitted against a classic New York underworld triumvirate of Chinese Triads, the Russian Mafia, and good old dirty cops. The story? Mei, a 12-year-old girl with prodigious intelligence and photographic memory is smuggled from China to New York to work for Chinese Triads, memorising the profit and loss accounts of their extensive crime network and sparing them the hassle of leaving a financial paper trail. When the girl is kidnapped by rival Russian gangsters, Luke Wright (Statham) a renegade police agent turned cage fighter takes the law into his hands to protect her, with suitably explosive consequences.
There’s no doubt that Stratham was attempting to broaden his range and soften his image in this role. To begin with, Statham eschews his trademark Thames Estuary twang for an American accent – albeit with patchy results. The opening sequences of Safe are also notably bereft of fight scenes and we find Luke tormented by the murder of his wife and contemplating suicide. Well, as tormented and suicidal as Jason Statham can be.
For all the attempts to create a sense of emotional weight rooted in Luke’s selfless devotion to Mei’s protection, one can’t help but feel throughout that both Statham and director Yakin were impatient to get down to the real business of beating up the bad guys. The result is that character development and storyline are treated as inconveniences to be tossed aside at the earliest opportunity. Parts of Safe are actually so derivative, lazy and comically executed that it is easy to imagine that Safe is actually a monumental, post-modern send-up of the entire action genre.
In fairness, Safe is not trying to be anything more than a popcorn blockbuster and at best, it is a hilarious tongue-in-cheek pastiche of the action movie conventions we all know and love, with some genuinely funny one-liners from Statham and the requisite exploding cars and implausible stunts. At worst, Safe is yet another a mediocre shoot ‘em up with heavy gunfire and light storyline.