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Safe (Frank's take)

1/06/2012. Contributed by Frank Ochieng

Buy Safe in the USA - or Buy Safe in the UK

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Now folks, here is the dilemma: you knowingly give an overactive puppy one of your shoes to play with as you hope the critter can creatively be imaginative with the footwear until he rips the object to sheds in predictable fashion.

So who is to blame for the shoe’s ruined outcome? Is it the puppy that is simply following his instinct to destroy the shoe or is it the individual that is responsible for arming the impish animal with the shoe to wreck in the first place?

Well, in the feisty and formulaic actioner Safe we are dealing with a British bulldog in the boisterous bullet-blazing Jason Stratham who would be content in blowing to smithereens the whole shoe store and not think twice in doing so. Of course giving the obligatory endangered shoe store to Stratham would be writer-director Boaz Yakin as he teams up with this one-man wrecking crew to create a rousing yet rudimentary crime caper that has explored the familiar and tired theme of a brooding badass and impressionable cute kid tied to the hip in danger, disillusionment and despair.

In all fairness, Stratham’s high-octane appeal has been rather consistent in some of his indistinguishable frenetic fables that his ardent followers cherish with all the blunt enthusiasm of a sucker punch to the kidneys. Defiant ditties such as Crank and Transporter helped shape Stratham’s on-screen reputation as a walking time bomb waiting to needlessly explode. It is safe to say that Stratham will not be trading in his gruff-and-gunning routine in one-note hedonistic thrillers in exchange for playing in an updated version of Mr. Mom anytime soon.

The point is well taken…Stratham is comfortable in his high-wire act of punishing the riff raff as he struts through the manufactured mayhem like a monosyllabic misfit. Still, Stratham (and especially Yakin’s sketchy script and follow-the-dots direction) leaves Safe as yet another run-of-the-mill action-adventure taking names and making noise but doing nothing else that is particularly crafty. The action seems strained and unimaginative in conventional terms of a serviceable potboiler. Stratham is in his comfort zone which is not entirely a bad thing but this unconvincing yarn handcuffs the balding basher in mediocre material not worthy of his accelerated antics.

Luke Wright (Stratham) is a tormented soul that must face the harsh realities as he grieves over the death of his wife courtesy of the Russian mob’s dastardly interference. With a background in police work and martial arts fighting (hence giving the inconsolable Luke a legitimate reason to be the talented killing machine that he is in spirit), the tortured Luke cradles some severe suicidal tendencies.

Deciding to take out his deadly frustrations on the assortment of Russian mobsters, Chinese Triads and dirty roguish cops that compose the vermin that is New York City’s seedy underworld, Big Luke sets his mind on one specific goal: to protect the livelihood of an imperiled and adorable 12-year old girl named Mei (Catherine Chan), an incredibly gifted child whose intelligence and photographic memory is an essential tool for the Chinese crime syndicate to exploit. After all, having Mei memorize their illegal financial accounts is more reassuring than for them chancing it through loose data being recorded on paperwork and other unguarded documents.

Mei is eventually smuggled into New York City from China in order to satisfy the continued interests of the States-bound Chinese Triad when she is suddenly kidnapped by the rival Russian mobsters. Mini-math whiz Mei is comparable to a human computer in that she can recollect the sequenced numbers that can open up a safe worth some lucrative loot. This is where Luke must safeguard the valuable little gal from the undesirables looking to use her magnificent mind and memory skills. Thus Luke and Mei must endure the chasing of these furious figureheads as the brutality unfolds much like a cheap army cot.

As the terrorised tandem on the run, Statham and Chan are acceptable and mesh well together as a gritty guardian and his precious (and precocious) Chinese charge. Safe is uneven in its motive, pacing and tone. At first it is an admirable gesture as this flick looks to actually portray Stratham’s anguished Luke Wright as a raging “softie”—an intriguing contradiction when it relates to how the angst-ridden rogue takes this vulnerable kid under his wing. Instead of tapping into this sentiment for some further variety and depth the movie is afraid to briefly abandon its empty-headed action-oriented edge. So as to not get lost as a so-called thriving thriller in fear of upsetting Stratham loyalists due to instilling a touch of character development Safe shifts into its popcorn-pulsating mode equipped with recycled over-the-top flourishes. Remember, Stratham and Yakin want bone-crushing escapism over sprinkles of sentimentality in their pseudo supercharged crime caper.

Dime store dialogue, uninspired and telegraphed action stunts, stock bad guy prototypes, a convoluted story line and stoic Statham stares into the camera all add up to a derivative drama trying to be slick in its shoot ‘em up shenanigans.

In conclusion, certainly one could not rob this vacant Safe.

Safe (Lionsgate Films)
1 hr. 33 mins.
Starring: Jason Stratham, Chris Sarandon, Catherine Chan, Robert John Burke, Reggie Lee
Directed by: Boaz Yakin
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: Action-Adventure

Critic’s Rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)

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