Safe has the three essential elements of any box office action hit: 1: a very large budget ($27 million, reportedly); 2: a prodigal child on the run from mobsters; and 3: a tenderhearted tough guy. The film has gained most of its attention from Jason Statham, naturally the tough guy of choice, whose work in the Transporter series has given him wide acclaim for his tense action roles. It is Statham’s typical high-energy moves and cynical one-liners that carry the film from its jumbled beginning to the end. Well, Statham, and a trail of meaningless death.
Safe follows the story of Luke Wright (Statham), a weary cage fighter who gets off on the wrong foot with various branches of the New York mob after losing a rigged fight. Turns out, he’s also an ex-hitman for the NYPD, and, thanks to the mess-up, he’s now wanted—dead or alive—by both the local government and its underbelly.
Enter Mei, a 12-year-old Beijing math whiz, who has recently been kidnapped and brought to the U.S so the Chinese mob can use her memory as a virtual spreadsheet of their revenue and expenditure. When it’s discovered that she holds in her mind the numbers to safes of incredible value, the Russian mob goes after her, splitting their energies between finding the little girl and Wright as well. Mei, played by relative newcomer Catherine Chan, is the bravest little girl in the world, hardly flinching as, every time she turns around, someone’s pulling a gun on her or blowing away random bystanders in her face. After coming together by a sort of mischance in a subway station, Mei and Luke set off on an adventure to protect the girl and, well, we’re not really sure what else.
The film fits its genre to a T, but leaves viewers not entirely sure why. The stakes are raised very high over the combinations, busloads of people perish for them, but its hard to narrow down what it is that the mobsters, police, or even Luke Wright really want as a takeaway, and this is where it loses its interest.
As an early contender in the “summer” movie Rolodex – it’s never too early to start – Safe makes immense carnage its memorable mark on the landscape. Shootouts occur at random moments, in beautiful landscapes, and one can’t help but wonder about the lives of the innocent people, taken or shattered in the process of all the violence. It is, in its defense, well-choreographed violence, but that is something Statham would probably have no other way.
Safe, in all its attempts to be over-the-top and edgy, is good fun and not much more.