Safe, starring Jason Statham, was written and directed by Boaz Yakin who had Statham in mind for the lead from the beginning.  The idea was to deliver a traditional action role but add an emotional element behind the story and add the dramatic quality lacking in these kinds of films.  His script attempts to do so by giving the audience a character beaten by the world rather than the customary man of action who seems to always be on top of it.  Keeping true to the philosophy that a man who has lost everything is the most dangerous, the concept has everything necessary for an exciting and gripping story.  We’ve seen the formula used to great success with westerns, from classics like Shane or more modern approaches like Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.  It’s rare, but with the right script, actor, and director you can make a poignant action film, and films like The Road Warrior or The Professional have done so.  Some would say it’s an action director’s dream to make one.

Sadly, the clichés that surround Luke Wright (played Statham) are all dream killers and directing what you write isn’t always… safe. Luke is a former NYPD officer who dropped out of the force due to corruption.  He ended up making ends meet as a mixed martial arts fighter but didn’t throw a fight as ordered, angering the Russian mob who bet heavily against him.  They kill his family and vow to follow him forever, killing anyone he associates with.  Luke wanders through life homeless, avoiding anyone who recognizes him to prevent them from harm.

We are also introduced to 12-year old Mei (Catherine Chan), who has amazing memory retention when it comes to numbers.  After talk of getting transferred to an advanced school in China to develop her talents, she’s snatched up by the mob instead who intend to use her abilities as an untraceable computer in which to run numbers.  Mei is sent to New York City, walking through Chinatown with a gang of thugs one moment and getting chased by another the next.  With Luke ready to end it all on the subway tracks, he abandons the thought and springs into action when he sees Mei running and hiding from gangsters who remind him of the enemies that still follow him.

Should you still be in the theater and manage to survive this long, there is a much deserved payoff.  After nearly a half hour of building up this ridiculous backstory, an equally ridiculous amount of action and fighting follows.  Mei runs into a subway train with her hunters also getting on board, but Luke only has time to grab on to the end of the last train car and board it the hard way by climbing over one car and jumping into the connector.  He proceeds to move from train car to train car until he intercepts the gangsters, viciously and savagely punching, kicking, headbutting, throwing, and twisting everything from arms to necks to fingers with the kind of loud snapping sounds usually exclusive to horror films.  Mei instinctively follows her new protector out of the train at the next stop, and Luke continues his rampage against both the Chinese and Russian mobsters.  Minutes later he’s taken a car from one and rides down the wrong way on a series of New York’s imposing and busy one-way streets in order to make a clean getaway.  Like I said, it’s too much, but it’s too much on purpose.  Besides, watching Statham’s character give a swift and unapologetic beat down to anyone in his path is part of his classic style and a welcome sight for fans of his other work.

I’m going into this gruesome amount of detail because it basically sets the tone for the majority of the film, for better or worse… and credit is certainly due to stunt coordinators from 8711 Action Design.  The action is raw and ruthless each time, but that ingredient is served like a main course, making it less palatable and more predictable as the film goes on.  It also doesn’t mesh as well with dramatic content as the script had originally planned to do.  While you want to sympathize for the hero, it’s hard to feel remorse after you’ve just watched him saunter up to a mob run bar, say something witty in Russian to the unassuming mobster nearby, disarm him, execute him, then jump across the room on to a table of five more while emptying the gun into anyone left moving.

Making enemies of both the Chinese mob who had her and the Russian mob who want her, both gangs turn to the bought and paid for local police department for some favors.  What comes next is a small posse of corrupt New York officers, putting their personal grudge against Luke on display through each of their angry cop glares. Even the mayor hates Luke, and works to intensify the manhunt for him.  As Luke manages to lie low with Mei briefly, he realizes a set of numbers they asked her to memorize is the combination to a safe containing $30 million.

Yakin’s background in action films and familiar New York City streets as his set is his greatest strength and he uses it well when filming.  His reliance on shooting longer takes rather than fine tuning each scene in the editing room makes for a better visual experience, and the hours that he and the photography staff spent looking at ’70s New York films definitely lends some inspiration.

The script and some lackluster acting from the supporting cast were the only things holding this film back, but it seemed to be enough.  It’s a shame given strong performances from both Statham and newcomer Chan, as well as good showings from mob bosses played by Han Jiao and Sándor Técsy.  I’d still be curious to see the next film as Yakin did manage to film some great scenes and occasionally even humorous ones without resorting to anyone staring into the camera and giving a catch phrase.