Silver Screen: Safe ***
What's the point of even giving Jason Statham movies titles? Inevitably, Statham will play a no-B.S. badass who's good with a gun and better with his fists, and he'll bloodily dispatch a few dozen bad guys on the way to saving the female lead. The only real variation to look for is the type of badass Statham plays: Is he reluctant and terse, or spitting sardonic quips? It might be easier to just number them.
So Safe could just as easily be Jason Statham Movie XII, and, as it turns out, Jason Statham Movie XII is pretty fun.
Statham's Statham-based character here is Luke Wright, a third-tier mixed-martial-arts fighter who hides his true talents in lieu of taking dives for money. But when he accidentally dispatches a particularly weak opponent, the Russian mobsters who bankroll him butcher his pregnant wife and vow to murder anyone he attempts to befriend. Statham/Luke drops out of society and goes to New York as a vagrant, but there's more trouble waiting for him: Turns out before he was a fighter, he was a crooked cop who turned on his greedy, murderous partners, and now that he's back in town, they're out for revenge.
Meanwhile, young Chinese girl Mei (Catherine Chan) with a genius I.Q. is kidnapped by gangsters and forced to memorize a long, coded number. She's to be delivered to a designated location and put the mysterious number to use, until interference from the Russians causes a shootout and she flees. Lucky for her, the first person she runs into is a certain elite killer/cage fighter/vigilante with nothing for which to live. Gentlemen, start your killin'.
Safe is the kind of absurd, over-the-top movie where kidnapping and orphaning a young girl isn't quite enough to prove the bad guys are really bad, so they have to menace her with a blowtorch. It's the kind of movie where everyone is either a gangster, a crooked cop working for the gangster, an innocent bystander victim, or Jason goddamn Statham. It's outlandish even by the over-the-top standards of action movies, if not quite as cartoonish as Jason Statham Movie IV (a.k.a. Crank). It's pretty dumb. It's a good time.
Writer/director Boaz Yakin has an eclectic résumé that includes the wonderfully twisty coming-of-age-in-the-ghetto drama Fresh, the Renée Zellweger romantic weepie A Price Above Rubies, inspirational schlock Remember the Titans, and the gal comedy Uptown Girls. Yakin is also credited on the scripts for the Cuban-themed sequel to Dirty Dancing and the awful Prince of Persia movie, so he's not exactly slumming it here. What he does is make an unapologetically dunderheaded shoot 'em up that more than fulfills the modest qualifications of the subgenre.
Yakin's single nifty innovation in the Jason Statham Movie series is to restrain his star's significant badassery for the first half hour or so. While gangsters murder and pillage and innocents are slaughtered, poor Luke/Jason Statham must grit his teeth and sit idly by. That rage coils tightly in him until at last, when he spots Mei fleeing bad guys on a subway train, it explodes into sharply choreographed fight scenes punctuated with bone-snapping brutality. From there on it's pretty much just Statham working his way through three sets of utterly unrepentant villains in a killcrazy rampage. That's why you bought your ticket, right?
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.