When originally confronted with the trailers for the new Jason Statham thriller, I got the impression that I had already seen it with Bruce Willis as MERCURY RISING (hero protects child who has memorized a coveted code). And when I actually saw SAFE, it was preceded by no less than three CONSECUTIVE Bruce Willis trailers. But for all that, it's not really the same thing at all.
True enough, young genius Mei (Catherine Chan, who's excellent) is having her incredible memory exploited by the Chinese mob (the massive number she's learned will crack an all-important safe (hence the title), but now she's also being targeted by the Russian mob AND a posse of corrupt New York City cops.
These latter two factions are quite familiar to Luke Wright (Statham)--together they've destroyed his family and whatever shreds of his life might have remained (for reasons best left discovered by watching the surprisingly complicated film)... rather than actually kill him, they sadistically enjoy counting the days to his inevitable suicide. But Luke's chance encounter with the fleeing Mei changes everything.
By the time SAFE actually opened, Mei had been removed from the ad campaign and the film was pushed as yet another "pure adrenaline" Statham thriller, but it didn't help... for one thing, "discerning" viewers noticed that Statham didn't actually engage in effective ass-kicking for nearly a half hour into the film. But don't take that as a complaint from this corner: writer/director Boaz Yakin (REMEMBER THE TITANS) instead provides the star with an unusually--and refreshingly--sensitive character (yes, Statham actually CRIES at one point) whose smart-aleck catch phrases in the face of danger are initially no more than the hollow bluffing of a man who has literally nothing to live for.
Now, the action certainly does come, but the multiple car chases and shootouts are among the least impressive elements of the film--they're not quite as disastrously hyperkinetic as those seen in, say, TRANSPORTER 3, but you'll still probably have to wait till the end of each such sequence before you can figure out who's left standing. But in the meantime, you get to enjoy the villainous histrionics of Chris Sarandon and James Hong (whose laughable hairpiece threatens to engulf him) while Luke tries to simultaneously protect Mei and win her trust (as I said, this isn't MERCURY RISING--and it's not LEON, either).
SAFE succeeds on the basis of its characters and storyline above all else--you'll certainly want to know what happens next, and the lack of an oversimplified pat ending also works in its favor. Too bad nobody's paying attention to this one.
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