Safe (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
4Sep/120

Safe (2012)

Jason Statham is an actor who encompasses a sort of odd dead zone between the over-the-top heroics of Arnold Schwarzenegger and the working class weight of Bruce Willis.  The way Statham is utilized in his films always seem to work both angles, present a guy who is already weighed down by his lot in life then thrust him in a situation where he needs to respond with cartoonish ultra-violence.  Settling for a middle point is not the way to make a Statham movie.

The best roles for Statham embrace his ability to extend his talents to either extremity.  When he's asked to become a relentless force of violence and destruction he's an entertaining wunderkind of masochism and delight, as seen in Crank and The Transporter.  But he can tone it down to deliver some genuine pathos if asked, which worked best in the astonishingly good Bank Job.

I love the guy.  Physicality aside, the best part of his performances is how he can change his natural gravely pitch to whatever situation he is called upon to portray it.  The biggest issue with Safe is that writer / director Boaz Yakin tries to have it both ways.  He presents us with a guy trying to get over the death of his wife through some vague events he caused, then immediately juts him into a plot of high kickin' adrenaline filled with one-liners and snazzy deaths.  Yakin does both spectrums competently but not to the point of excellence, which with a dichotomy this extreme is required for a story of this sort to work.

A heaping helping of Christ imagery let's the metaphorical viewers walk away mildly satisfied.

Difficult as it is to balance the two, Safe does the action film a lot better than its obvious inspiration, the dour 1999 Bruce Willis film Mercury Rising.  The plots are nearly identical save a mental imbalance or two.  In Safe, Statham plays a disgraced NYC cop turned UFC fighter who is paid to throw matches because of his considerable strength and skill.  Across the world the plot started without him a year earlier when an eleven year old mathematical genius (Catherine Chan) is picked up by the Chinese mafia to make their businesses moreefficient.  She's shipped to America, he happens to stumble on the plot as she's used as a bargaining chip, and then the bullets fly.

The only difference between this film and Mercury Rising is the kid having autism.  The script is also less profoundly stupid, but pretty much hits the same points.

I bring this up because Safe, much like Mercury Rising could have been, is a reliable action film for Statham.  He's doing the same thing he does in lesser films, growling out his lines, being thrown around, then killing folks in a few brutally inventive ways.  Statham was able to take the lower class crown of action hero's from Willis very quietly, as evidenced by his growing presence on direct-to-DVD stands everywhere.

Catherine Chan does a good job, but she's little more than a prop for Statham's jumping and shooting efforts of heroism.

The problem is where the film wants to go with Statham.  The first half of the story doesn't really know what it wants to do with the working-class angle, and responds by throwing everything onscreen at once.  He's a cop who didn't sell out, he's a worker who didn't know when to stop, he's a fighter too willing to drop for the folks with the money.  The metaphorical everyman has become the literal everyman, with a life so filled with traumatic events and bootstrap rebuilding any one of those plots would have been better than what we see.

Then superhero Statham shows up and I don't know what the hell.  Yeah, it looks cool.  He jumps through the air with the ease we've come to expect from him, kills bad guys with forks, and takes out a bakers dozen of villains with table pinning techniques.  Sure, it all seems fun describing it, but Statham doesn't seem as excited about hurtling himself through dangerously empty space as he used to be.  The quiet acting he does at the very beginning, when mobsters describe one of his many lives before the cameras started rolling, is evidence enough that he should be filming the next mythic tale of the put-upon instead of being shot at.

Safeis ok.  If you just want to hear Statham growl and kill folks then your satisfaction craving will be fulfilled.  For someone looking to Statham to breach the plateau and finally break out of his kicky mold, it's disappointing.  There is hope that better things wait for him, but I want them to been seen without hurtling through the air.

Safe (2012)
Written and directed Boaz Yakin.
Starring Jason Statham and Catherine Chan.

Posted by Andrew

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