Jason Statham has a distinct type of action film. His films tend to have a basic premise with a run time filled with lots of fighting and violence. When you go to see one of his movies, whether it is "The Transporter" series, "Crank" or the newly released "Safe," you know what you are getting.
Except when you don’t.
"Safe" is a departure of sorts from the actor’s previous films in the fact that Statham starts out as a down on his luck guy. After leaving the police force, he has become a caged fighter who doesn’t actually try to win any bouts. When he accidentally wins the wrong fight, the Russian mob decides to take everything - including killing his wife and unborn child - from him. Homeless and a shell of the man he used to be, Luke finds salvation in a little girl named Mei, who is being pursued by the same thugs because she has a valuable number memorized inside her head.
During the first third of the film, "Safe" is too busy cutting back and forth between the little girl and Luke. Rather than be linear, director and writer Boaz Yakin ("Remember the Titans," "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time") has unnecessary time jumps that could have easily been explained through a couple of seconds of dialogue. It’s not until the second act that Luke becomes the character that Statham fans know and love.
The problem for audiences is the jumping around in scenes and just getting to the point, rather than watching Statham do what they love. Yakin spends the first part of the film making quick cuts - Statham first appears on screen shirtless, but the scene lasts merely seconds - and by the time things settle down the audience is likely not to care anymore. Yakin tries to put too much into the film; Luke is given multiple backstories - he is considered a rat by his former NYPD officers, which leads him to the cage fighting bout that not only ruins his life but also targets anyone that comes into it. Aren’t having two different mobs after him enough? Does he really need to have a group of crooked cops with a vendetta against him also?
Even for the young girl, there is too much exposition that is unresolved. Her mother is sick, and eventually she is told of her passing secretly. But this information never plays as important a part as you might think. Yakin’s attempts to flesh the film out are misguided and it leaves the film feeling cluttered, despite its short run time. Also adding to the confusion is the jumping back and forth between having the Chinese mob speak in English using subtitles when they speak in their native language without any reason.
In both writing and directing the film, Yakin appears to have too much control over the film. He includes things such as Luke going on a shopping spree (hey, if you are going to kick butt and take names you have to look good doing it in tailored clothing right?), but doesn’t delve deeper into the character’s history with the crooked cops. Yakin tries to include too much backstory that never amounts to anything and not enough about the characters’ real personalities that move beyond their cookie cutter archetype .
Making her feature film debut, young actress Catherine Chan does well in the mostly stoic role. As the little girl Mei, Chan is detached but not withdrawn from the film. Taken from her family and forced to work as a "human computer," thanks to her photographic memory, Mei is a girl who goes from being happy and normal to detached and closed off due to circumstances. Chan shows promise as a young actress.
Jason Statham films are low rent action films that are high on the violence, low on plot, and employ more hand to hand combat than most films in the genre. They are harmless, but there doesn’t tend to be much depth to them. "Safe" has enough to appease his long-term fans, but suffers from a director’s misguided focus. It’s safe to say though, that Statham’s not going to win any new fans here.