Anyone going into a Jason Statham film expecting a deep artistic experience obviously wandered into the wrong theater. Safe, the newest Statham film, by no means reinvents the wheel. You have some action scenes, you have a by-the-numbers plot, and if you are willing to forgo some cliches Safe is not a bad way to waste some time.
Luke Wright (Statham) has seen better days. A former elite New York City cop (his accent notwithstanding), he now is homeless, after having his wife and unborn child killed by the Russian Mafia when he didn't take a dive at a cage match (seriously, I'm not making this up). Meanwhile, in China the Chinese Mafia has gotten hold of little Mei (Catherine Chan), a math prodigy who can remember all types of numbers and combinations. She makes the perfect filing system: no paper trail. She is taken to New York to work for the international interests of villainous Uncle Han (James Hong). Mei is given a code that she memorizes but doesn't understand.
However, it seems that the Russian Mafia is interested in this code too, leading to her abduction. However, complicating things are the corrupt cops who are working both sides and now want their take. In the chaos and confusion, Mei manages to escape. Now the police, the Ruskies, and the Commies are after Mei. Into this mix enters Luke, who sees the vulnerable girl and decides to silence his demons by becoming her rescuer. Eventually, we learn what this code is (the combination to a safe I think) and Luke & Mei manage an escape from everyone, with most of the money (they send it to Han save for some to start a new life, and a promise that if they are left alone Luke & Mei won't reveal all Mei knows).
Let's be honest: Safe isn't made to do anything other than to give Statham fans what they like: some
violence, taking down some bad guys, and get some action. In that regard, Safe fulfills its duties and can be enjoyed, even if writer/director Boaz Yakin has a plot that is predictable and a bit convoluted (everyone is after the little girl, and only the lone damaged wolf can come to her rescue).
What is curious is that Safe has Jason Statham attempting something that he rarely does: actually act. With the possible exception of London (where he did something else I've not seen him do: wear a toupee!) Statham does one thing in all his films: kick ass and take down names. Most of the time it's an enjoyable romp because Statham has accepted he's an action star (does anyone think he'll be playing Prospero or Professor Higgins anytime soon?). However, Safe is a departure for Jason Statham because here he starts out as basically a broken man. In fact, given how passive he is in the first part of the film, he's showing a vulnerability one doesn't associate with him.
Horror of horrors: at one point in Safe, he actually lets out a tear! Certainly Statham is attempting to push himself in directions he rarely ventures. Most of the time Statham is the tough, silent type, not one to let emotion get in his way. However, Safe makes a different Jason Statham: one who comes into the film as the wounded, emotionally vulnerable, almost broken man.
Once he finds his mojo, he goes back to being the Jason Statham we all know and love.
The nice surprise is Chan as little Mei. She's being asked to carry a lot of Safe, and she does a good job as the little girl caught up in all the murder and mayhem. One does wonder if Mei has merely accepted all this as part of her life, but Chan sells Safe's "we need to save the child" storyline. As the driving force of the story, we like Mei.
Now, I'll say the plot is a bit ridiculous at times (the whole cage fighter looking to heal business reminded me of the fourth and final season opening of The O.C., a show that started off well and just sunk beyond repair once Ryan Atwood decided to become a cage fighter and lived in a closet to heal from his true love's death) and Safe is really nothing we haven't seen before. Some plot threads (such as the uber-corrupt Mayor being involved) are given then dropped when no longer necessary, while others (how exactly does someone survive hours in a trunk) aren't answered.
Still, I'm not about to judge Safe as a failure merely because it does what it set out to do: give me some action scenes, some attempts at witty one-liners ("I've been in restaurants all night. All I've been served is lead."), and the requisite "Damaged tough guy finds girl he can save" story. That being said, while Safe certainly lives up to its title, it also is a good way to spend a couple of free hours.