In Safe hands with Statham
Safe (16, general release, 94 minutes)
Director: Boaz Yakin Stars: Jason Statham, Catherine Chan, Chris Sarandon, James Hong, Robert John Burke
Big film of the week: With his gravel voice, thousand-yard stare and flair for the po-faced one-liner, Jason Statham is my favourite action actor at the moment, and what the man lacks in acting range he more than makes up for in physical charisma and understated charm.
He's appeared in a couple of half-decent films recently and, for its opening 45 minutes or so, Safe looks like it might be slightly more than decent.
Statham is Luke Wright, a former NYPD police officer whose cockney accent remains a magnificently unexplained anomaly. After resigning from the force under a cloud, he gets involved in mixed martial arts cage-fighting and falls foul of the Russian mafia after refusing to throw a fight.
In what would have to go down as a bit of an over-reaction, the Russians storm Luke's home and kill his wife in front of him.
After that he goes into an understandable tailspin, and is wandering homeless through Manhattan's streets when a chance meeting pits him against his old enemies.
Luke is in a subway station contemplating suicide with the help of a passing train when he sees a young Chinese girl being chased through the crowd by gangsters.
She is Mei (Catherine Chan), a 12-year-old with a genius for maths and the retention of long numbers who's been abducted by a triad gang who use her to do their books.
Mei has also memorised a long code to a safe containing $50m, but has escaped from the Chinese gang and now everyone's after her -- the triads, the Russians, a cabal of corrupt cops.
When Luke comes to Mei's assistance, they steal a car, give the Russians the slip and hole up in a posh hotel.
He gradually wins the girl's trust, but the odds are firmly stacked against them, and their enemies now include the killers of Luke's wife and his disgruntled former colleagues.
Captain Wolf (John Robert Burke) heads an NYPD strike team composed of men who helped drive Luke from his job because he wouldn't take bribes.
Safe's plot, then, is hardly rocket science, and incorporates elements of the Transporter films and many other bog-standard crime thrillers.
But initially at least, director Boaz Yakin handles his story with commendable energy and verve.
The confusion and noise of midtown Manhattan is powerfully evoked, and fast but focused editing propels you to the heart of the story.
Mei's dilemma is conveyed with admirable efficiency, and Luke is not shown hitting anyone for so long that you begin to wonder if Mr Statham has had a change of heart and taken up Buddhism.
No such luck, of course: he explodes into action a half-hour or so in, and displays the grace and conviction in combat that separate him from the common run of action men.
It always seemed to me that Arnie and Sly's pumped-up Michelin-men bodies would become a flapping impediment if they were ever involved in an actual fight: Statham is lean and mean and looks like he'd clean your clock if you looked sideways at him.
As Safe proceeds, he cleans many clocks, too many in fact, as the plot runs out of ideas and the director and writers resort to Hong Kong-style body counts.
This is a bit of a pity, because the film had me hooked for at least the first hour, Catherine Chan is excellent as the tough, embattled girl, and Statham seems to improve with every outing.
From a modest start, he's turned himself into a halfway decent actor, and it would be nice to see him attempt more challenging roles.
Day & Night