To once again quote the late film critic Pauline Kael, “Movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we have very little reason to be interested in them.” That, in a nutshell, is the approach one should take when viewing the new Jason Statham action movie, Safe. It’s so bad on so many levels that one can’t help but appreciate it. It features a hackneyed script, downright terrible acting and so many laughable lines of dialogue, it manages to reach the “so bad, it’s good” level. Great art it isn’t, but Safe is one of the most entertaining pieces of trash I’ve seen in a long time.
Luke Wright (Statham) is down on his luck. He’s an ex New York cop who is hated by the current police force for snitching on them back in the day and he is now relegated to cage fighting to get by. He has just won a match after one punch, but there’s a problem: he was supposed to take a dive. He didn’t think one punch would knock his opponent out. Now he has the Russian mob on him and they’re angry about the money they lost. They strip him of everything and explain that if he gets close to anybody, they’ll kill them. He’ll never be happy, so he decides to end it all. While standing on the edge of a subway platform, however, he spots a young girl named Mei (Catherine Chan) hiding from some pursuing Russians. It turns out she’s actually a genius, able to memorize anything by looking at it for a few seconds, and she has a string of numbers in her head that, when deciphered, give the combination to a safe with lots of money in it. Deciding he’d rather fight than give up, Luke rescues Mei and decides to take them on, along with the Triads and a corrupt police force that are also looking for the girl.
Good bad movies are no phenomenon. We had one only two weeks ago with the absurd Luc Besson produced Lockout, but the difference between the two is that Lockout had some amount of polish to it. It sported some moderately clever writing, decent performances, snappy dialogue and some witty one-liners. Its laughs were intentional and its thrills calculably ridiculous. It knew it was stupid. Aside from the self parodying ending, Safe doesn’t. It thinks it’s cool. It thinks it’s smart. It thinks it’s clever. It thinks its story is full of interesting twists and turns when, in the back of the viewer’s mind, it’s hard to understand why the Triads would go to so much trouble of having Mei memorize that number when they could just write it down and perform the task of grabbing the money themselves.
Although the action is solid and likely to put a smile on the average adrenaline junkie’s face, the bulk of the film’s entertainment is unintentional. The humor comes from scenes with a serious intent that simply fail and the juxtaposition of a supporting cast who overact every scene they’re in working opposite Statham’s understated “hardly trying” approach. These moments lead to some hilarious dialogue exchanges and macho posturing that tries to be cool, but is really just silly.
Safe is one of those movies that’s better seen than described, because it’s hard to describe a movie that fails in nearly every regard, yet is still fun to watch. The cinematography is ugly, complete with poor framing and shaky camerawork, the acting is weak and the story is inconsequential drivel, but it’s enjoyable drivel. Safe feels like a B-movie, one that probably should have gone straight to DVD, but wound up in the theater due to the lead star, so one should accept it as such. There’s no need to overanalyze what you’re seeing; just go with it. You might not respect yourself when it’s over, but you’ll admit you had a good time.
Safe receives 3.5/5