CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SAFE (2012)
By Michael Arruda
MICHAEL ARRUDA: Welcome to another edition of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT. I’m flying solo today, as L.L. Soares is off on another assignment.
(Cut to L.L. Soares at his home in bed sleeping the night away. He suddenly opens one eye.)
L.L. SOARES: What is it? Hmm. Am I supposed to be some place?
(Closes eyes again)
(Cut back to MA at the subway station.)
MA: Today I’m reviewing SAFE (2012), the new action thriller starring Jason Statham. I like Statham a lot, as he makes for a very believable action hero, even in the most unbelievable circumstances. That being said, I didn’t like SAFE quite as much as his previous efforts, BLITZ (2011) and KILLER ELITE (2011).
When SAFE begins, Luke Wright (Jason Statham) is a down-on-his-luck trash collector moonlighting as an amateur boxer.
MAN PASSING BY: That’s pretty unbelievable!
MA: Yes, well, did I say that one of the flaws of this movie is it strains credibility? However, to its credit, SAFE does do a nice job of eventually explaining some of the plot points that at first don’t make a lot of sense.
Luke inadvertently upsets members of the Russian mob when he knocks out an opponent they had big money on. In retaliation, the Russians murder Luke’s wife, but they don’t murder Luke. Instead, they tell him that they’ll kill everyone he knows, everyone he talks to, starting with his landlady if he doesn’t bolt from his home by morning. In effect, they are completely isolating Luke from the world, and they tell him he can end it all by killing himself.
Meanwhile, a young Chinese girl Mei (Catherine Chan) has been abducted by the Chinese Mafia because of her genius-like ability to memorize numbers. She is brought to the United States where she works for the slimy Quan Chang (Reggie Lee) and his boss “Uncle” Han Jiao (James Hong). When Mei is entrusted with an incredibly long and highly important number to memorize, she is abducted by the Russian mob who want the number for themselves.
To the rescue comes—.
WOMAN PASSING BY: Jason Statham?
MA: Not yet. To the ”rescue” comes corrupt members of the New York City police department led by Captain Wolf (Robert John Burke) who also want the number, and suddenly there’s the makings for a war on the streets of New York City. Somehow, Mei escapes from both the Russians and the police—.
BOY: That’s not very believable.
MA: Yes, I know.
BOY: How does she escape?
MA: Well, she literally walks out the back door. Anyway, pursued by both the Russians and the police, she escapes to a subway station much like this one, where it just so happens that Luke is there, having hit rock bottom, and he’s about to kill himself. However, he sees young Mei being pursued by Russian thugs, and like a true hero, decides to save her. He follows them onto the train where he single-handedly kills all the thugs and whisks Mei away to safety.
At this point, I’m scratching my head wondering how a garbage collector can so easily wipe out heavily armed members of the Russian mob? Luckily, it’s also at this point that we learn that Luke isn’t really a garbage collector, but a former member of the New York City police department, and he’s not just a former cop, but a former “special agent” who was called in after 9/11 to help make the streets of New York City safe, no questions asked. That’s why Luke has been so depressed over the years, because he’s been allowed to do some nasty things to some nasty people.
BOY: Now I get it.
MA: Good. Now run along. (Boy doesn’t move). Don’t you have some place to go?
BOY: No. I want to stay here and listen to you.
MA (shrugs): Suit yourself.
Luke and Mei bond pretty quickly, and soon she’s divulging the secret of the memorized numbers to him. It doesn’t take Luke long to figure out that the numbers are a code, and as soon as he deduces what the code is for, he and Mei are off and running, trying to stay one step ahead of the Chinese, the Russians, and the corrupt cops, since these guys want the numbers as well and don’t care if they have to kill him and Mei to get it.
There’s no shortage of action in SAFE. In fact, SAFE is so full of “shoot-em up” action sequences with loud booming guns you might find yourself wishing you had some earplugs. This is one movie where you won’t be falling asleep.
(Cut to LS in bed. He’s now awake.)
LS: Man, this doesn’t seem right. I could have sworn there was something I was supposed to be doing right now.
(CUT back to MA at the subway station.)
MA: The presence of Jason Statham in the lead keeps this one on track, although as I said, the plot is convoluted and unrealistic at times, and a key moment in the movie doesn’t ring true, so ultimately SAFE is never as good as it should have been.
As much as I appreciated the stylish action sequences, there’s a minimum amount of bloodshed. Even though SAFE is Rated R, the violence reminded me a lot of the James Bond movies, where the hero, a la Bond, faces 20 guys and you know they’re all going to die and he’s going to emerge without a scratch. This can be fun, but in a movie like SAFE, where the villains are some rather unsavory characters, I was hoping for something a little more disturbing.
BOY: I love James Bond movies!
MA: Me, too, but this one would have definitely been better had it been darker.
GIRL: What are you guys talking about?
BOY: Shh! He’s reviewing a movie!
GIRL: How rude! (She walks away)
MA: Thanks, kid.
MA: The major plot point that didn’t work for me occurs when Statham’s Luke has hit rock bottom and he’s about to commit suicide at the subway station. When he sees Mei being chased by the Russian thugs, he intervenes, saves her, and becomes her protector. He later says he did this because she saved him. What does that mean?
(Behind MA, the GIRL is suddenly jumped by a bunch of thugs who start harassing her.)
MA: I know what it’s supposed to mean, that at his lowest point, she gave him a reason for living, but I didn’t buy it here.
I can see him smelling a rat and saving her from the Russians, but afterwards, he becomes so connected to her so quickly, I dunno. I didn’t quite buy this. He just didn’t seem like the type of guy who wanted to have a kid around.
(The thugs suddenly throw the girl to the ground and start beating her.)
BOY: Excuse me, mister? Mister? That girl—-.
MA: Not now, kid. I’m reviewing a movie.
BOY: But she’s getting beat up!
MA: No, she doesn’t get beat up. Statham saves her.
BOY (rolling eyes): Not the girl in the movie! That girl! (points)
(There is suddenly a lot of screaming behind MA and the BOY, and they turn to see that the GIRL has donned her HIT GIRL costume and now she’s beating the crap out of the thugs.)
MA: Go, Hit Girl!
HIT GIRL (to thugs who are all on the ground moaning): Is that all you’ve got? What a bunch of pussi—!
VENDOR: —Cats! Cats for sale! Cats!
(MA & the BOY exchange glances.)
MA: Anyway, the audience I guess is just supposed to accept the fact that because Mei is a little girl, Luke has a soft spot for her.
There are also a few scenes that really stretch credibility. In one such scene, for example, Luke kills the gang of Russian thugs on the subway in brutal fashion, in front of a crowd of passengers. He then forces the passengers off the subway train, and as they go running off screaming, they run right by several police officers without saying a word, and Luke just walks off the train without incident. You mean not one person cries to the police for help or points out that the guy who just murdered a bunch of men on the train is walking right behind them? Come on!
Jason Statham is excellent once again in this movie. The thing I like most about him is he is very believable as an action hero, and I believe it when he beats the crap out of a bunch of bad guys, even if in this movie, he’s put in situations that are a bit too unbelievable, a la James Bond.
Catherin Chan who plays Mei is okay, but she didn’t wow me, and I didn’t think she and Statham shared a whole lot of chemistry.
The rest of the cast is very good. Robert John Burke plays the corrupt police captain, Captain Wolf, and he’s excellent. Reggie Lee makes Quan Chang sufficiently slimy, and James Hong is chilling as “Uncle Han.” These folks talk nicely to Mei but you know they would kill her in a heartbeat, if necessary.
Chris Sarandon is also on hand as the corrupt Mayor Tremello—yep, about the only guy not corrupt in this movie is Statham’s Luke—and he makes the most of his brief scenes. Anson Mount plays Alex, another super killer who, the mayor mentions, is the one man capable of stopping Luke. Mount turns in a nice performance, but much to my disappointment, the anticipated fight scene between the two super killers never happens, which I thought was a major letdown.
SAFE was written and directed by Boaz Yakin. Yakin gets higher marks as a director. The action sequences are all slick, fast, and well-executed, and the movie is fast-paced and fun. The story, on the other hand, is a bit convoluted, which is too bad, because a tighter story, with a darker undercurrent, would have made SAFE a more satisfying movie.
It’s not bad though, as the script does eventually explain most of its loose ends, and there are some neat twists and turns along the way, such as when Luke turns to Captain Wolf and his corrupt officers for help when he needs to overpower the Chinese.
While I had fun watching SAFE, I would have enjoyed it more had it been more deeply rooted in reality. Ultimately, in terms of violence and story, this one drops the ball and simply plays it safe.
I give it two and a half knives.
BOY: It sounds pretty good.
MA: Yeah, it’s not bad. I think most action fans will like it. Thanks for listening, kid.
BOY: You’re welcome! (leaves).
MA: Well, that wraps things up from here. Until next time— (feels his pants pocket) What the—? My wallet’s gone! That kid swiped my wallet! Hey kid! Come back here! Hey, Hit Girl! A little help?
(CUT to LS in bed.)
LS: Now, I remember what it was I was supposed to be doing! (gets up and sits in front of his computer.) I had some fiction to write. (Turns to camera) What did you think I was forgetting? You didn’t really think I’d forget a movie assignment, now, did you?
© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda
Michael Arruda gives SAFE ~ two and a half knives!