When a second-rate cage fighter, Luke Wright, is tormented by the Russian Mafia and wanders the streets of New York, he witnesses a young Chinese girl, Mei, being pursued by the same mafia who want her for a priceless numerical code that they would kill for.
Don't expect a Jason Statham franchise starter à la the Transporter series from Safe. But by all means do expect a flat-out fun-times thriller, with all the bone-crunching stunts and nimbly executed action sequences we've come to expect from the bald British bulldog, whose steely eyes and no-quarter attitude lays bad guys to waste wherever he wanders. And there are plenty of bad guys to go around. There's the Chinese triad mob that has kidnapped and is exploiting a little girl named Mei (Catherine Chan), a hard-nosed cutie with a photographic memory; she's literally a human safe. There's also the Russian mafia, desperate for the long string of numbers locked in Mei's head, which is later revealed to be the combination of an actual safe. Then there's the corrupt squad of elite New York City police department goons who only want money, and after they find out there's a lot of it in said safe, they join the chase too. The mayor's involved as well, along with his mysterious aide, who has a stake in all the above-mentioned parties and who proves to be the figure to bring the plot points into focus. The common thread in all this is, of course, Jason Statham, who plays Luke, a disgraced mixed martial arts champ with a chip on his shoulder because he's now living life as a chump. Luke went down hard after not taking a fall for the Russians, and he's lost his family as a result. Wandering Manhattan in self-imposed internal exile, he's a homeless, depressive loner on the verge of suicide, until he accidentally stumbles into all this safe business by crossing paths with Mei in a moment of preposterous movie coincidence. Sensing the chance for redemption, he starts cracking heads and cracking wise with the Chinese and the Russians. Ditto the cops, with whom it turns out he has some lingering bad business. It's not a bad story by any means and it serves the adventure aspects in ways that are often giddily agreeable. Writer-director Boaz Yakin has the right stuff to make the pieces fit into some semblance of logic, if not always believability. He also handles his star with bare-knuckled exuberance, letting Statham do what we want him to: outwit and out-brawn the villains with gut-busting grace in a nearly uninterrupted string of neatly choreographed set pieces. Safe is actually a little more appealing than the Transporter and Crank movies because of its attention to narrative detail and imaginative battle setups. Statham is a smart actor who may have become pigeonholed by genre, but he consistently satisfies with his deadpan demeanor and genuinely impressive chops--both physical and theatrical. Safe is sound, satisfying entertainment that will delight fans of the action hero and may surprise those who are experiencing his moves as an international star for the first time. --Ted Fry