Oof. Having reviewed the last Jason Statham vehicle, The Mechanic, I was pretty sure I knew what I was in for with Safe, not to be confused with the Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington film Safe House. Safe, for its part, isn’t nearly as good a movie as its similarly titled brethren, and makes easy comparison to the Nicolas Cage film Bangkok Dangerous which you probably never saw because you heard how god-awful it was. Reduce the age of the Asian female protagonist to 10, remove the love interest component, amp up the cheese and you have something reasonably close to this film. Yes, it really is that bad.
So the follow up question… where did it go wrong? Well, for starters, this shouldn’t be a Jason Statham movie. He’s horribly miscast here, and every new piece of information we learned about his character, the less he made sense in the part. Also, he should know way better than to read scripts involving complicated rings of meaningless money laundering, particularly if all this backstory is in a foreign language. The first third of the movie is one of the most annoying flashback/flashforward sequences I’ve seen in a long time. Non-linear editing can’t hide the fact that the plot is contrived and completely without narrative weight or stakes. In fact, even at the end, we’re still not totally sure who owes whom money and where the funds/goods are positioned. It’s like playing a dumbed down version of chess, albeit blindfolded and told repeatedly how stupid you are for not being able to follow along.
The story, what of it exists, follows a young girl who’s indoctrinated into the Chinese criminal underground due to her photographic memory (no, I’m not kidding) and therefore her usefulness in memorizing complicated strings of numbers. Does she just memorize bank accounts? No. That would seem logical. Instead she memorizes streams of numbers and then is able to locate patterns in them that Statham deduces to be the combination to a safe he has no reason to know exists. Yes, that’s where the title’s from. Physical safes. Two of them. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination, or for you to discover if you have the misfortune of catching this one on cable someday.
Statham is, you guessed it… a retired UFC fighter? Not what you were expecting? Well if you believe that one I have a bridge to sell you. It’s almost more insulting that the movie spends the whole first act steadfastly trying to get you to buy that a secret-agent level trained assassin is just a cage-match punk, kind of like a friend who’s so caught up in their own fiction that they’re trying to lie their way out of it while you glare at them in disgust. Once that’s out of the way, the pace quickens up, a few good fistfights and car chases occur, and we’re off to the races. All this happens on the streets of genuine Manhattan, something that’s actually a rather impressive production feat. Nice to see the city portrayed realistically, even if this is exactly the kind of movie where you’d expect it wouldn’t be. I digress.
Your primary enjoyment of the film will depend on how absurdly overdeveloped your suspension of disbelief complex is, and how much of a fan you are of Statham and the kind of work he’s been getting since The Transporter made him the go-to tough guy action hero. Coming from a former fan, this might be the one to shatter your faith, so I’d advise steering clear. It’s not the worst action movie I’ve seen lately, but that’s more because of how desperate I was trying to wring enjoyment out of it than any particular merit on the part of the film. Go see Safe House, a surprisingly large amount of fun, and try to forget this one was ever made.
A former elite agent takes on a two-tier mission: rescue a Chinese girl who’s been abducted by the Triads, then use a safe combination to outwit the Russian Mafia, corrupt NYC officials, and the Triads themselves.