Jason Statham is Luke Wright in Safe, an MMA rumbler and former cop who dealt with the underbelly of the New York’s crime syndicates. He’s known as a “garbage man,” taking out the trash in the sense of a grand ’80s action movie punchline. Safe opens by jumping through its exposition, pushing itself one month and then one year backwards before bringing itself into the present.
In that time, Wright fails to throw a fight to an Internet fighting scrub, landing himself in the midst of turmoil with those who bet on Wright’s loss. Why did this super cop, on the verge of being able to rock Jason Bourne, end up fighting in low rent MMA venues? “I don’t understand his mentality,” a quote from the corrupt mayor in a city full of corrupt people. That’s character development.
With millions lost, his wife murdered, and gangsters tracking his moves, Wright is ready for the suicide route until he decides to rescue a lone Chinese girl because… “I don’t know.” That girl is a genius, capable of memorizing strings of numbers, now locked with the knowledge of a safe combination. That’s her downfall, and Wright becomes her impromptu savior.
Safe becomes a chase, sometimes for the girl Mei (Catherine Chan), sometimes for a mob boss’ son, other times to protect the organized crime that festers within the underbelly of the police department. Include money, numbers, and locations too. It’s a frantic search for a multitude of plot devices.
All of this becomes jumbled, a mish-mash of action tropes that eventually expose themselves as an excuse for Statham to punch or shoot someone. The body count rises on the immigrant population, and you’d swear the same person is killed three times, if not more. As much as Safe wants to be a refresher of the ’80s action palette, it misses the key point: keep it stupid. Wright is forced to deal with a rabid stock of villains, bursting from the script in such numbers, they lose all of their appeal.
Han Jiao (James Hong) is the only notable entry, an often somber Chinese mafia ring leader with spurts of pure anger. Mayor Tremello (Chris Sarandon) is the opposite, a super sleazy lawyer-ish type who is so far removed from legitimacy, it’s implausible to think the citizens would grant him the position during election season.
Safe’s murky plot dealings lead to an evening of shoot-outs in classy locations and cell phone conversations with few words. You know, the “meet me at point X” dramatic call required the inevitable showdown that doesn’t lead to much. It’s arguable if there’s an even a payoff to Safe. Overflowing with wild set pieces and frenzied chase scenes (too much to completely hate this movie), the film cheats at the conclusion, robbing audiences of what could have been a stable martial arts clash. Characters are rounded up, while the action is left dangling. Statham doesn’t even get a dopey one-liner. What a shame.
A sturdy grain structure and an obsession with teal greets Safe upon entry. Along with Lionsgate’s AVC encode, the disc makes an impression even if it’s not always positive. Pages could be written about how dreadfully boring films can look these days despite infinite technology to make them appear unique. Safe slaps on a few doses of cool, an orange flesh tone here and there, while calling it a predictable day.
That doesn’t take away from a generally precise encode. Even under pressure from hazy interiors and that unmistakeable film grain, compression is held at bay. An early instance of haloing is a single use offender. The rest of Safe carries a natural presence and precise sharpness afforded by the resolution.
Black levels will prove subdued on occasion, one of the few inconsistent elements on a regular basis. Car interiors tend to lose their depth for something a bit murkier, splashing the screens in mild grays. Those nighttime shoot-outs can lose some of the depth rapidly.
Holding together is a string of dramatic, staunch close-ups rife with fine detail. Even the youngest member of the cast is given prominence in terms of facial definition, no small feat. Focus is tight. Medium shots hold a clean grip on the material without any signs of the digital transition taking over. It’s an image that balances a layer of grit and clarity to find a pleasant balance amidst shaky camera work.
Safe probably doesn’t have the punch audio fanatics will be searching for given the boisterous quality of the film itself. Gunfire has a dominating low-end for sure, but still feels held back. For a DTS-HD mix (a 7.1 effort at that), no singular element seems to attract much attention beyond the spacing. When Statham punches someone, it should sound like a rocket launching, or so says his previous films.
Riffing or not, stereos score here. Mei produces some calculations on an abacus early, the camera zoomed into the moment. Each movement on the device pushes itself into one of the fronts for a dizzying, tennis match-like effect. An in-car moment as Statham runs someone over has the offending bad guy hitting the front and rolling into the rears, ensuring those two extra surrounds are being used.
Gunfire will be prominently placed in a specific channel. Short of rounds fired by the main character on screen, everything else will pop in a different channel outside of the center. Gun battles feels frantic and lacking in control, making their dreadful skill level (from low end thugs) readily apparent. That’s a lot of fun.
Director Boaz Yakin provides a commentary, and carries the majority of the other bonuses with his words. Cracking Safe is your stock studio making-of for 11-minutes, followed with Criminal Battleground. The latter is a dissection of characters and their roles. Art of the Gunfight takes 10-minutes to detail the proper way to film shoot-outs and the work that goes into them, framed with the difficulty of capturing action on screen.