"Safe" offers yet another reminder that Jason Statham's brutal filmography has become a genre unto itself: the Jason Statham movie. At this point, the brawny star owns the entire lower-middle swath of the action movie marketplace.
Mr. Statham is — to borrow the credo of another gruff, one-dimensional comic book character, Wolverine — the best at what he does, but what he does isn't very nice.
No one makes a better blue-collar action flick, and these days almost no one else is trying. His movies aren't high art, and I hesitate to even call them creative entertainment. Instead they're mass-produced commodities designed to satiate viewers with yet another kicky, violent fix.
Still, they work. Yes, Mr. Statham's movies pander to their viewers. But they also respect them, serving up only the bare essentials with minimal filler: no fuss, no excess chit-chat, just quips and kicks. With its clinical, efficient brutality, its serrated cynicism and its pat cruelty, "Safe" fits the bill better than most. It's the purest Statham fix in years.
No one goes to see a Jason Statham movie for the plot. "Safe" won't change that. The Manhattan-based story is best described as Jason Statham versus everyone — the Russian mob, the Chinese triad, the New York Police Department, even city hall — after he unexpectedly becomes the protector of a young girl who has memorized a very important number.
None of this matters: What does matter is that director Boaz Yakin turns New York into a sort of video game playground — an island of car chases, shootouts and crude ethnic stereotypes, but little else. Mr. Statham plays Luke Wright, the video game hero at the center of it all, swiftly dispatching armies of armed thugs.
As always, Mr. Statham's glower is as impressive as his physique, which looks to have been chiseled out of hot marble. The "Transporter" films proved that it was a pleasure to watch him move — he brings a raw sense of force and impact to his fight scenes that bigger movie stars rarely match.
Sadly, the movie undercuts Mr. Statham's considerable physical gifts. Mr. Yakin shoots the action scenes in herky-jerky cam, violently pitching and yawing as if the camera operator was standing on the deck of small ship weathering a massive ocean storm. The nonaction scenes are only slightly less frantic, and they are all captured in the sort of extreme close-up that gives the feeling of standing way too near someone on the subway.
But there's no intimacy in the movie, just casual cruelty and sandpapery cynicism. When Mr. Statham's character captures the pretty boy son of a local mob boss, he calls the father and makes a threat: "I'm going to do things to him that will make me ashamed to look in the mirror afterward," he says. "But I will do them." Which seems to explain the movie's larger ethos about as well as anything.
The movie makes much of the difference between good and bad business. With a movie as shameless as "Safe," the important thing to remember is that good and bad don't matter: It's all business.
CREDITS: Written and directed by Boaz Yakin
RATING: R for language, nonstop killing
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS