Mania Review: Safe -

Mania Grade: C+

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  • Starring: Jason Statham, Catherine Chan, Robert John Burke, James Hong, Chris Sarandon, and Anson Mount
  • Written by: Boaz Yakin
  • Directed by: Boaz Yakin
  • Studio: Lionsgate
  • Rating: R
  • Run Time: 95 minutes
  • Series:

Mania Review: Safe

Jason Statham vs. New York City

By Rob Vaux     April 27, 2012

Man, they were so close.

Safe could have been tremendous. It carries the hard edge of 1970s cop movies: all dirty streets and venal corruption without the slightest hint of daylight to give us any hope. It stars Jason Statham, who can kill a man with a salad fork like no one else on the planet, and boasts a director in Boaz Yakin who can invest ordinary set-ups with something perversely beautiful. It sets the stage for the best cop drama since Heat… and ultimately proves unable to meet those expectations. We can no longer accept a run-of-the-mill actioner after it shows us what it has then squanders that potential inch by agonizing inch. We’re left with something more than we expected, but a lot less than we were promised.

Yakin starts with a number of assets in his corner: a variation on the Yojimbo formula set in modern New York, only with three warring parties instead of two. The Russian mob sits on one side of the triangle, the Chinese triads on another, and the unspeakably compromised NYPD on the third. Then the film drops an adorable little Chinese savant (Catherine Chan) in the middle and gives her a super-secret code that they all desperately need. Insert Statham’s supreme ultimate bad ass – his bad assery goes without saying, of course – and watch the mayhem multiply.

It works on the most basic levels, since Statham can do this shit in his sleep and the various swarthy thugs he dispatches are loathsome in the extreme. Yakin performs some amazing feats with matching cuts and camera angles to put some fire in the visuals – his use of rearview mirrors approaches Spielberg’s for inventiveness – while the stunts contain an appreciable amount of harsh imagination. For a low-brow beatdown, you could do a lot worse… especially when old pros like Chris Sarandon and James “Lopan” Hong show up as the villains.

Safe, however, has a lot more going on than just a rumble in the Bronx, which ultimately proves to be a double-edged sword. It embraces the cynical realities of a compromised world: the fact that everyone has their price and that greed often proves stronger than love. The hero can’t win simply by vanquishing his foes; he needs to earn partial victories and decide how to navigate the threats that remain. Statham helps that with a surprising vulnerability at times, revealing more of his character’s wounded soul than expected. When Safe nails these moments, it becomes positively transcendent, and channels the spirit of 70s neo-noir with exquisite insight.

Unfortunately, those proclivities clash badly with the film’s pulpier instincts. The gritty underpinnings and messy complexities of reality periodically vanish, replaced by cartoonish superheroics. One scene, for instance, involves Statham trying to catch up to the girl on a subway. When the doors close, he clambers up the back and streaks effortlessly across the roof of the speeding train. The bad guys indulge in similar good-natured idiocy, such as taking an entire hotel hostage before shooting their way clear when the police arrive.

The script provides an explanation for such moments, but that doesn’t change the way they disrupt the carefully established mood. Had Safe embraced its sense of dumb fun more readily, they would have felt right at home. But after mining the rich possibilities of something greater, the repeated fallback to shut-up-and-shoot-some-bad-guys mode becomes an exercise in frustration.

Critics tend to disregard Statham’s work out of hand, an elitist position that belies his undeniable star power. He’s good at tough R-rated action films, the heir apparent to the likes of Charles Bronson who also took a beating at the hands of the press. Safe demonstrates the potential of his chosen idiom and the ways in which he was born for this particular form of mayhem. It deserves credit for aspiring to great things, a fact made all the more tragic when it fails to follow through like it should. Statham has an action masterpiece in him somewhere, and Yakin might just be the guy to deliver it. For now, however, we have to remain hopeful rather than reveling in an accomplishment that doesn’t quite materialize here.


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wish 4/27/2012 5:27:58 AM

Statham is the victim of bad directors in a genre that should be much better than it is.  Though I love most of his movies, they would be shit without him.  He did a film a couple of years ago called The Bank Job.  It took place in the London in the 1970's and was based on a true story.  No kung-fu or extreme weapons play, it starts out semi-humorous and quirky and then gets really real, real fast.  Great movie, easily his best but it got missed by the masses.  He's got a lot of movies in him though, he'll rule the world at some point, he hasn't even begun his villian stage yet!

MrJawbreakingEquilibrium 4/27/2012 11:17:06 AM

I agree. He can be in great movies like Snatch, The Bank Job, The Mechanic and the other Guy Ritchie film he was in. But he keeps on doing these dumb action movies where half of them are clones of his other movies.

keithdaniel 4/27/2012 1:07:52 PM

Wish, The Bank Job is a great movie, one which I bought on bluray along with The Forbidden Kingdom in a two movie set for $9.99.  Truth be told, I first bought it because I was looking for some affordable movies to buy on bluray and I liked the latter movie and hadn't seen Bank Job but after I watched it I was glad I did.  Easily one of the best heist-caper movies ever made.  I think one way for Statham to branch out would be for him to perhaps do some genre films like sci-fi, fantasy-adventure or horror.  IMO, the standard action movie has died out years ago and I think action stars like not only Statham but also Bruce Willis and Sly Stallone should consider doing more sci-fi and horror adventures instead.  If they keep doing these conventional action movies then they run the risk of watering down their careers, especially the latter two stars, both of whom at this stage of their careers should have the experience to know that by now.

InnerSanctum 4/27/2012 2:58:50 PM

 Dear lord...why doesn't this guy try something different.  He has the talent.  At this point, he could be playing the Transporter in every film.  Is the word "no" in his vocabulary.   He needs to take a look at his career...try doing a Snatch type flick where he has actual dialouge and no kicking.  I also liked The Bank Job and The Mechanic.  He isn't uping his notch much by going with Expendibles 2.  Pretty soon we will see Statham, Cage and Willis in a film about nothing.  One step closer to straight to VID release.  

domino2008 4/27/2012 11:18:05 PM

The Dude got His start in England in Guy Richie films , came over to the States doing a few films with Jet Li in action films , but also did good in team up films such as THE ITALIAN JOB and THE EXPENDABLES , but got caught up with the low budget films as THE TRANSPORTER films . I though His breck-out movie would had been THE MECHANIC , it seemed a very well produced film . KILLER ELITE was ok .Then here He is in SAFE . This Guy needs a NEW AGENT ! He can handle humor . He needs to build up some Female fans an should do a different type of movie , perhaps a funny love film ? (LOL) He needs a new casting agent and  not to keep playing a secert agent !

samson 4/29/2012 12:41:03 PM

I've always said Statham would be a great Guy Gardner.


karas1 4/29/2012 4:06:51 PM

I liked him in Death Race also.



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