“Luke Wright, the Big Apple’s hardest cop – once upon a time.” That’s the line in the promo for Safe that’s meant to get your blood up. Global action icon Jason Statham plays Luke Wright in Safe, so you know this cop is not going down easily. And that’s the trouble with Safe: You know where it’s going every step of the way. Statham, the British Olympic-diver-turned-actor, knows the testosterone overload his audience wants of him, and he delivers big-time. The thing is, Statham can deliver more. Watch him in the two movies he made for director Guy Ritchie: 1998’s Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and 2000’s Snatch. There’s style, dexterity and mischief in those performances. And Statham got better in 2008’s The Bank Job, going almost the whole distance without blowing a hole in somebody’s skull.
Safe director Boaz Yakin (Remember the Titans) doesn’t put many demands on Statham, though the film asks for more than a cool-dude walk-through, like in the Transporter trilogy. After the murder of Luke’s wife, he is suicidal, wanted by the Russian and Chinese mobs and legions of Manhattan’s corrupt politicians, led by Chris Sarandon. Then something happens that gives Luke a shot at possible redemption. He decides to become protector to Mei (Catherine Chan), a 12-year-old Chinese girl being targeted by the same goons who killed his wife. Mei is a math prodigy with a photographic memory that now lodges the numbers (don’t ask) the baddies need to break a code. “Are we safe?” the terrified girl asks Luke. “Till my dying day,” says Luke. He means it. Between the fists, kicks, bullets, car chases and broken trachea, the movie could have milked the sentiment of that relationship until you puked. But Statham and the scrappy Chan play it hard. The restraint becomes them. Statham is still playing it safe in Safe, but vulnerability is showing through the cracks. Can there be some Statham surprises ahead?