Safe (2012)

'From the Producer of...' is rarely a good sign.
‘From the Producer of…’ is rarely a good sign.

“They have the code. He is the key.”

Directed by Boaz Yakin
Starring Jason Statham and Catherine Chan

Mei (Chan) is a 12 year old mathematical prodigy, kidnapped by the Chinese mob to calculate and memorise their financial operations in New York. When she is re-kidnapped by, but escapes from, the Russian mob, she discovers an unexpected protector in the form of down-and-out former cage fighter, Luke Wright (Statham).

Mei has a number in her memory, the code to a safe that is key to an exchange of a vast sum of money for a blackmail disc. The disc was put together by the Mayor of New York (Chris Sarandon) and the exchange is his retirement fund.  Among the material on the disc are details of an anti-organised crime taskforce, which secretly included two black ops assassins: the mayor’s aide, Alex Rosen (Anson Mount), and Luke Wright.

With the Russians, the Chinese, and every corrupt cop in New York after Mei, Luke will need every move in his arsenal to protect her and find redemption.

What’s wrong with it?

Wright’s backstory is frankly laughably complex mish-mash of plots from other, usually better movies: He is assigned to join a police taskforce while also moonlighting as an off-book gangster-killing assassin (LA Confidential), ratted out corruption in his unit and got it shut down (Lorenzo Lamas vehicle Renegade), sought some sort of atonement taking a beating in cage fights (X-Men), killed an unskilled opponent (Pulp Fiction) and had his pregnant wife murdered (Death Race). The Russian  mob’s punishment was to leave him alive, but kill anyone he ever gets close to, because nothing sends a message like pissing resources down the drain keeping tabs on a down and out whom you think is just a cage fighting garbage man.

The central plot is equally nonsensical. There are frankly easier ways to communicate the coded combination of a safe.

I’m actually unsure whether the film indulges in a little old school homophobia, or if Alex actually is the Mayor’s boyfriend. It’s a little unclear. Maybe we’re in a yay gay villains situation?

Watching a fight-heavy Jason Statham film is like an endurance fight, with each punch wearing down your willingness to go on watching.

What’s right with it?

If we are yay gay villains, then props for not having any UST between Luke and Alex, and declining any homophobic last lines. Also for having one of the film’s gay characters be the Mayor’s unstoppably bad ass dragon.

Mei walks the fine line between precocious sass and saccharine, with Chan playing her old-before-her-time understanding of the world, coupled with the bitterness of one who is aware that it’s not fair that she does understand this stuff, effectively.

Also, props for having the mathematical genius not be autistic.

The total bypassing of the climactic fight scene is a blessed relief.

How bad is it really?

It’s just a grind, really, with nothing much in the way of heart and humour to lift the relentless thwack of fist on mook. When push comes to shove, more interaction between Luke and Mei would have helped a lot.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Discovering that his wife is already dead, Luke simply walks back out of the (unseen) bedroom and kneels down with his hands behind his back as the Russians emerge behind him. It’s surprisingly powerful for such a run-of-the-mill film, in part because it’s so restrained, and in part because Statham does do weary rather well. Sadly, once the Russians start talking it all goes downhill in a welter of ostentatiously diabolical dialogue.

What’s up with…?

  • The Chinese mob running all of their operations through one little girl? Off-site backups were not invented purely for computers.
  • The Chinese giving the combination to their safe (which is right inside one of their casinos) to the Mayor with a promise to send the code when they have the disc, when the code is so simple that Wright has already cracked it?

Ratings

Production values – Given how much of the film is set at night, everything is very visible, and the fast editing stops just short of being nauseating. In essence, the production is distinguished more by lack of faults than by virtues. 10
Dialogue and performances – This is an extremely professional cast; no-one is outstanding (okay; James Hong,) but no-one is terrible either. I’m not sure I can say the same for the writing, which does spend a fair time in clicheville. 12
Plot and execution – While nominally simple, the plot is actually both overly complicated and riddled with nonsense. Yakin handles the mess with style, but it’s still a mess. 11
Randomness – There is a lot of ‘oh, by the way’ involved in this film. “I’m not a garbage man.” “There’s only one man can take him down.” “The Mayor is actually gay.” It’s not quite standard issue randomness, but it’s a sufficiently egregious use of retrospective tell-not-show exposition that I count it. 14
Waste of potential – It’s dumb, but it’s an action movie from the tail end of the golden age of Statham; that it doesn’t blow like a Kansas farmhouse is a miracle. 5

Overall 52%

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