Jason Statham stars in Safe, an action-packed story of serve and protect that is outstanding in its well-trodden field.
Statham has come a long way since Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Over the past two decades he has carved himself a niche as the go to guy for the bone-crunching, bullet-ridden action pictures previously fronted by his Expendables co-stars Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger. For someone who could have easily ended up as the third Mitchell brother on Eastenders Statham has, with perseverance and prolificacy, excelled in the genre on both sides of the Atlantic, converting a legion of fans to his old fashioned down and dirty fighting style reminiscent of the brutal cop thrillers of the 70s and 80s.
The Stath here plays Luke Wright, an ex-government agent working as a cage fighter whose life is turned upside down when his wife is suddenly (within the first five minutes) murdered by mafia bosses. Wright then gets inadvertently sucked into a war between the Triads and a Russian crime syndicate after saving a twelve-year-old Chinese maths prodigy from kidnappers. The gangs want to exploit the girl for her photographic memory and use her skills to help crack open a safe containing $30 million. It all sounds a bit convoluted but the story flows confidently, darting back and forth with a coherent fluidity whilst skilfully balancing action sequences and character development.
With a gang of crooked cops hot on his trail as well as the rival gangs, Statham has more than his fair share of disposable henchmen to execute in a manner fitting to the action narrative template. But despite this, Safe doesn’t sacrifice story progression for an overabundance of exaggerated fight sequences, and with a wonderful debut from the young Catherine Chan as the numerical genius, the film excels in a genre usually rife with clichés and stereotypes.
Director Boaz Yakin (Remember The Titans, Fresh) steeps his battle sequences in smoky, realistic settings similar to the grimy character driven films of Walter Hill (Red Heat, 48 Hours) and John Flynn (Rolling Thunder, Out For Justice). This is a welcome and very attributable style for Statham whose one-man army fits perfectly in these surroundings. Instead of deflecting missiles with tea trays (The Transformer) or incorporating somersaults into kung fu attacks, the action and fight sequences in Safe are up close, personal and laced with hilarious one-liners like “I’m gonna shoot you in places that’ll make you wish I killed you” and “It’s a nice drive to Chicago if you like trees and sh*t”, which iterate that despite the grimy ambience, we shouldn’t take it too seriously.
Safe feels like something far superior to the generic action movies we’ve become accustomed to in that it incorporates elements of more respectable films from other eras a la Point Blank, Bullet and Dirty Harry. And with a new Expendables movie months from release, it’s good to see Statham once again flexing his acting and literal muscles in a film containing those elements so few achieve: drama and a decent story.
Safe is out in UK cinemas now.
Text: Daniel Goodwin