It’s harder than Jason Statham to not think of his latest as a loose reworking of the much-loved and much-wonderful Leon (itself a loose reworking of John Cassavetes’ Gloria), with our man Stath in the role as hero protector looking after an innocent 12 year old.
But in a market heavily saturated with remakes and reboots, a loose ‘reworking’ is in reality a much more tolerable option. By refusing to clamber to fuck the namesake of the previous by cashing in on the hard work and easy sale of the ‘remake’ pitch, Safe should be applauded. It should also be applauded for being a truly thrilling hour and a half of OTT action with a body count that rivals John Woo circa 1990.
Mixed Martial Artist Luke Wright returns home from a fixed cage fight to find his pregnant wife murdered by nasty Russians. Instead of wiping the floor with them – which as he’s played by Jason Statham he could easily do – Luke opts instead to take the punishment they doll out, namely, anyone he ever gets close to will come to a messy end. Meanwhile, child prodigy Mei is brought to the United States in order to help the underworld boss of Chinatown remember some very long numbers. Before you can say one plus one equals two, Mei is under the protection of Luke and everyone, we mean, EVERYONE from Moscow to Shanghai to the Mayor of New York wants them dead as Dillinger.
We’d be more than open to the possibility of someone correcting us but we believe Safe has an improbably original plot device at its heart. By making it impossible for the cuddly Stath to forge anything close to a meaningful relationship without the prospect of his new friend winding up riddled with bullets or ridden with maggots, Stath becomes the most unlikely of likeable characters. His predicament is so unpleasant – even offering a fellow homeless man his shoes sees the bum lose a sleepy knife fight – that it’s impossible not to root for him.
Opening with a blistering few minutes, cramming in not only the backstory of both Mei and Luke but the villainous Big Apple centred plans of every continent on Earth, Safe selects another gobsmackingly unusual but completely correct decision. It slows down. Instead of layering action sequence on top of action sequence it understands that the point of a first act is to get to know its characters. With that job successfully done, we can now happily watch Jason Statham kick the living shit out of every bystander that so much as looks at his ward in the wrong way.
It’s surprising how a few well selected judgements in the script can cover a multitude of sins. Without the good, the bad doled out by director/writer Boaz Yakim would require a lifetime of penance. Outside the main pair, characters are painted with brushstrokes akin to Christy Brown’s first attempts at watercolours and the dialogue spewed out deserves a ‘maniacal laugh’ soundtrack. For no particular reason the story becomes too complicated for its own good, leading to far too many distracting questions (“What exactly happened to the Ruski’s ominpotence?”, “Kahn from Chinatown can’t remember a safe combination?”, “Why was a man as skilled as Luke a cage fighter with mob ties?”).
Yet somehow, the ambition of the director, the likeability of the lead and the impossibly great body count combine to make Safe the most risk-free of (non-superhero) action films in a very, very long time.
It’s rare that a film will genuinely take you by surprise but Safe, starring the 21st Century’s Only Action Hero, Jason Statham, is one such film. It may have about as many plot holes as it has bullet holes and sure enough it wimps out with a sequel baiting ending but for the most part Safe is that other too scarce treat; a dumb action film that actually delivers.