"Safe" is decent, but forgettable.
I find it hard to review a film like Safe.
If it's a movie I love, I can't wait to sit in front of the screen and fashion a paean. If it's a movie I dislike, then I like to write out my gripes with it and, often enough, they come easily too. If it's a movie I have conflicted feelings about, then I find it an extremely rewarding exercise to articulate my thoughts as they help me come to terms with my stance. However, if it's a movie that just...exists and is neither here nor there, then I just don't know what to write about. This is one such movie.
Safe is about a girl named Mei, who possesses astounding mathematical skills. She's taken in by the Chinese mafia, who use her for keeping track of their accounts and statistics. One day she is made to memorize an extremely long set of random numbers. Later, while she's on the run from everyone after her (because of those numbers), a guy called Luke Wright, a former NYPD cop who nows engages in cage fights, sees her and takes her in his wing. Together, Luke and Mei try to ward off the people chasing them, which includes the Triads, the Russian Mafia and some corrupt cops, while trying to find out what those numbers mean.
Right off the bat, Safe makes a narrative choice that I found weird and unnecessary. The film begins at a particular point, then goes back a little bit and then goes back a little bit more, before finally progressing in linear order. It's in media res followed by more in media res, and doesn't help the film in any way I can measure. This clumsiness to the first few minutes is shaken off as the film then follows a clean narrative, interchanging between the two protagonists' stories until they intertwine. I'll say this: Apart from the opening gaffe, Safe is cleanly and crisply told. The Luke-Mei relationship could have easily been exploited for sentimentality and could have given way to sappiness but director Boaz Yakin stays away from that. The restraint in fact makes the dynamic even more potent and the film is better for it.
Clichés abound in Safe. Right from the protagonist with the troubled past to the corrupt cops & administration to the dialogues, there's little here you haven't seen (or heard) before. Even the action sequences are shot and staged in the same grim-and-gritty style that's omnipresent in today's Hollywood slate. The fact that film had a measly budget of $30 million also means that the CGI, such as that in a scene where Luke runs atop a train, is spotty. However, there is a violent edge to the action that's surprising and makes a not-insignificant impact in a few situations.
The movie is greatly helped by the performances of its two leads. While one could be facetious and say Jason Statham plays Jason Statham in every movie he's in, I felt he was quite nice here and showed a touch of depth that sufficiently distinguishes Luke Wright from Chev Chelios or Frank Martin. His ability to mouth a one-liner is well-known by this point (and the film gives him quite a few of them. I chuckled on multiple occasions.) but here, he also delivers genuine emotion adeptly. There's a nice shot which closes in on his face after a personal tragedy and Statham sells that moment perfectly. Giving a performer like him a paternal instinct also works well, as it adds a novelty factor to the interplay between the actors. It becomes easy to root for him once you see that he actually cares for Mei's well-being.
Talking about Mei, Catherine Chan makes her big-screen début here and she is brilliant. A character like hers could so easily come off as obnoxious (and that would have been the death knell for the film as it depends on us caring about Mei's fate), but Chan actually makes Mei adorable. She also has great rapport with Statham and their chemistry was the biggest takeaway I had from the film.
When I walked out of Safe, I liked it. And I'm pretty sure I still do. It's just that it's disposable and forgettable. However, if you're looking for a quick and breezy action film (it's just 94min), then you could do much worse.