Safe is a fun action movie but misses the bar of becoming an action classic.
Safe follows Luke Wright (Jason Statham) and Mei (Catherine Chan), as their once comfortable lives have turned upside down. Luke, an ex-cop and cage fighter, accidentally wins a rigged match, resulting in Russian mobsters losing a lot of money. Luke’s mistake leads to him living in homeless shelters and keeping an eye out for the people that hate him. Meanwhile, Mei, a young math genius, enjoys time in school with her friends. When Mei’s math skills are discovered by teachers as well as Chinese mobsters Han Jiao (James Hong) and right-hand man Quan Chang (Reggie Lee), she’s kidnapped and forced to remember payrolls and long lists of numbers for the Chinese mobsters.
When Quan Chang escorts Mei to receive a second number for her to memorize, he and his gang are ambushed by the Russians, who want the code from Mei. Through a turn of events, Mei and Luke’s path cross after he sees her being followed. Deciding to put her life before his own, Luke saves and protects Mei. Unfortunately, Luke has a long list of enemies. As a result, Luke and Mei find themselves being hunted by Luke’s past enemies and Chinese and Russian mobsters.
Written and directed by Boaz Yakin, Safe succeeds at delivering action from start to finish. Action fans will appreciate Yakin’s inclusion of shootouts, close-quarter fights, and martial-arts set-pieces. At the same time, the same fans may be disappointed by the lack of character depth and the mediocre plot. As a result, Safe is a fun action movie but misses the bar of becoming an action classic.
As mentioned before, Safe delivers thrilling action sequences throughout its runtime. Yakin and cinematographer Stefan Czapsky capture intense scenes with a mix of clear, wide-angle shots and shaky camerawork. While all the dialogue scenes are shot with sharp direction, the action sequences sometimes show clear shots of shootouts and Luke’s fights at hotels and restaurants but, at the same time, show shaky, quick camera movements of people getting shot or thrown across rooms. These quick camera movements sometimes make it hard to see what’s going on in the frame, which can become distracting.
As Luke and Mei run from gangsters as well as dirty cops, Luke must fight his way out. Admittedly, Luke is portrayed as a one-man killing machine (read: John Wick or Vincent from Collateral) throughout the film, and it shows whenever he shoots and kills gangsters in restaurants and hotels. Some viewers may see his character as being too “indestructible,” while others will enjoy the over-the-top violence Luke delivers. It’s up to you. But, every viewer would agree that actor Jason Statham carries the movie as Luke Wright. Not only does Statham performs his action scenes well, he also makes us care for what happens to Luke and to Mei. He delivers a strong performance as Luke, portraying a man with many demons and a complex past. Statham also succeeds at delivering funny one-liners, providing the film with levity in between the action and dramatic scenes.
Speaking of drama, Safe’s biggest problem is its lack of well-rounded characters and character depth. While Luke and Mei have sufficient backstories for their characters, the Chinese, Russians, and the dirty cops have none. Chinese mob leader Han Jiao and his right-hand man Quan Chang are reduced to one-dimensional villain archetypes. No backstory is given about their characters, which makes them easy to forget as the film rolls along. The same can be said for characters Captain Wolf (Robert John Burke) and Mayor Danny Tremello (Chris Sarandon), who are played by talented actors, but barely leave an impression by the end.
The characters in Safe are forgettable, but the action sequences make up for it. If you’re in the mood to watch a fun movie in your downtime, check it out. It’s nowhere close to being as great as Heat or Collateral, but Safe keeps your attention from beginning to end.