Starring Jason Statham, Catherine Chan, Chris Sarandon
It's sad when I go into an action film starring Jason Statham that I automatically have extremely low expectations. The guy can act, just see any British film he's done (Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, Mean Machine, etc.), so I know he has some talent. That aside, I also think he has a knack for action, and rather enjoyed the Crank films (mindless, nonstop action can be quite the guilty pleasure).
So what I don't get is, why do you attempt to muddy the waters with a weak plot, sad dialogue that feels it has to explain everything (aside from some good one-liners), and basically rip off the plot from The Man From Nowhere? If you're going to go for action with Jason Statham, just let the man kick ass for 90 minutes, forget the plot.
The plot runs two parallel plots for awhile, with Luke Wright (Jason Statham) condemned by the Russian mob for failing to throw an MMA fight, and is forced to live his life on the run. Then you have Mei (Catherine Chan), a young girl gifted with a photographic memory, who is whisked away from China to New York to work for the Chinese mob and keep track of their booking. And of course, all goes to hell when the Russian mob targets Mei for the data she holds. As Mei flees into the subway, she's noticed by Luke, who decides she's the inspiration he needs to keep on living instead of jumping in front of a subway train.
Unfortunately, Safe, which was both written and directed by Boaz Yakin, tries so hard (and unsuccessfully) to add plot and depth that it almost ruins the action when it starts. It's a good 30 minutes into the film before we see Statham kick some ass, and by then I was getting pretty bored. When we have to have everything explained to us, such as Luke isn't a garbage man who moonlights as an MMA fighter, he's an ex-cop. No, wait, he was a plant by the Mayor and he's really a trained killer. And it's shoved at us with dialogue that would be unnatural in this as a real scenario (everyone in the scene KNOWS he's an ex-cop, why do you have to tell him?), serving only to tell the audience information that could have been given in a more realistic way.
That's not to say we don't have good stuff going on here. The action is pretty damn good once it gets going, and Boaz Yakin has a good eye for cinematography and making the action seem artistic in a way. Also, Catherine Chan was a surprise, as she can hold a scene rather well on her own (with good timing on dialogue and some humor). Hell, if Boaz Yakin gave us about a third of the plot and replaced it with more action, this would have been a much more entertaining movie (heck, it works when Jet Li does an American action film).
But perhaps the biggest reason I had trouble enjoying this film was that it was way too close to The Man From Nowhere, a movie I hold in very high esteem, even with some of it's glaring plot holes. It's by no means a remake, but Safe spends no real time developing the bond between Luke and Mei, so it never quite feels like he's fighting for her, but that he finally wanted revenge. But if you've seen The Man From Nowhere, there's absolutely no doubt why Tae-sik comes out of hiding and leaves a trail of bodies looking for So-mi. We just don't get the same emotion in Safe.
If you decide to catch this one, feel free to take the first 30 minutes and use the restroom. Or get it on DVD and fast-forward it. It'll make the movie better, I promise.