Sunday, January 06, 2013

A price below plausibility

I don't know how I became a fan of Jason Statham exactly, and maybe I'm not actually one.  I haven't seen most of his body of work.  Frankly, he's so busy these days, he barely has time to watch his own stuff!  But I've been staying at a friend's house for a while now, and my friend TiVo'd one of Statham's latest, probably lesser-known works called Safe.  It might seem like a Luc Besson production... a lot like a Luc Besson production, but his fingerprints aren't on it, just a proverbial mirror image taken off the newsprint with a lump of Play-Doh.  I do recall the TV ads saying "From the producers of Inglorious Basterds and ...??" something else.  My question up front: how did Kevin Spacey get roped into this?
Hard to say if it's more or less impressive that this was written AND directed by one man, and that one man is Boaz Yakin.  This'll show Hollywood that he's ready to direct an episode of Person of Interest.  He's halfway there already, casting Robert John Burke in much the same role he plays on that show!!  As for the plot of Safe, well... it starts out interestingly enough when we don't realize that Statham is playing his usual guy-on-the-fringes-with-super-duper-fightin'-skills.  Yakin seems to be taking a page from the book of Kill Bill, letting the audience enjoy a lot of calm before Statham's storms.
Statham is sufficiently manly as Luke Wright, a former cop / terrorist-renderer turned cage match fighter.  But he does shed some tears for his wife who gets killed by Russian gangsters.  The Russians don't kill him, but they vow to kill anyone he talks to, something like that.  Meanwhile, we get the story of Mei, an 11-year old girl with a photographic memory, who gets forced into working for Chinese gangsters, led by Minneapolis' native son James Hong.  Maybe they're Taiwanese or Korean, who knows.  Can you even doubt the paths of these two misfits are going to cross?
Their paths cross in the subway.  Statham uses his extra accute powers of intuition to figure out that Russian mobsters are after this little girl, so he ends up saving her.  By the time Statham's driving through New York in a cop car, getting shot at by gangsters, my friend said "This is sub-par for Statham."  To be fair, I think he forgot how bad Crank was.
We go from bad to worse when the Chinese mob takes over a ritzy hotel to get the girl back, shooting up the place and killing a few upper crust types.  The big downtown shootout in Michael Mann's Heat it is not.  We go from worse to worser when Statham reunites with his cop pals that hate him to take down a casino vault.  Sure, they've got explosives, which they use on one door, but I guess we're just missing the point.  Maybe it's me, but when Statham's Six go into the Chinese-run nightclub, guns a-blazing, but I couldn't help but find slightly racist undertones to the proceedings, this being on a scale of a second invasion of Vietnam.  A few of Statham's soldiers get killed, Statham is unscathed.
The conspiracy goes all the way to the top, of course: the mayor of NYC, played by Chris Sarandon.  I'd like to say that this is a comeback for him, but that kind of thing's out of my hands.  There's even the old Lethal Weapon-ish final standoff where Statham and the arch bad guy put down their guns for a little mano-a-mano action, but... well, I won't spoil that for you.  And, like all great movie heroes who steal the money, they don't keep it for themselves.  Well, maybe just a taste for living expenses, but that's it.  My friend fast-forwarded through the big final scene with Statham and the little girl.  I didn't get to hear how they were going to spend the rest of their lives.  I'll just have to wait until Safe 2, I suppose.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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