In Safe, Jason Statham and the bad guys he's after give New Yorkers easily the worst day they've had in a decade. Starting on the subway and moving on to a hotel and a series of restaurants, Statham and gangs of both Russian and Chinese gangsters-- not to mention the cops who are both in cahoots and on their tail-- attack and shoot each other, along with the various passers-by who happen to get in front of their guns. It's mayhem of the standard action movie sort, but it happens almost entirely in public, meaning you hear the sounds of terrified onlookers as often as you hear Statham grunt or a gun go off.
There's so little of interest happening in Safe, a dull retread of most lone-man-on-a-mission action movies of the last 30 years, that I found myself constantly reflecting on how this kind of day would play out in real life. After the passengers on the D train watched Statham's Luke Wright dispatch a bunch of Russian gangsters, would they really stand by after he pulled out his gun? When he caught up to the Chinese girl Mei (Catherine Chan), a target by both gangsters thanks to a code her photographic memory has locked safe, wouldn't some kind of unspoken Amber Alert have him in cuffs within seconds? And after both the subway fight and a shootout in the lobby of the posh hotel where Mei and Luke briefly hide out, wouldn't every right-thinking New Yorker stay home, lest they get caught in the many crossfires to come?
Then you consider the many political implications. We eventually meet the slimy mayor (Chris Sarandon), who of course is involved because this thing goes all the way to the top, and the cops (including Robert John Burke as the Captain) who resent Luke for ratting them out for their corrupt behavior years ago. All of them storm around the sidelines of Safe either shouting at Luke or brandishing their guns in a fight scene, but none seem all that upset at this violent turn of events. You see, the world of Safe is the action movie world in which gun battles happen daily, and with none of the characters including Luke caring much about the massive body count, there's not much incentive for the audience to invest in the humans onscreen, dead or alive..
Even if you don't obsess over the New York details, there's still plenty of ridiculous things to stew over in Safe-- Statham's character as a former cop and garbage collector and cage fighter, for one, or the entire notion that the Russian mob would kill his wife, but also let him live to punish him further by attacking anyone he ever befriended (that's a lot of manpower for a guy who just refused to throw a fight in your favor). And while teaming Statham up with a little girl he feels compelled to protect is a nice twist on his tough-guy reputation, Mei's role as a human computer and code-breaker is pretty outlandish, and not helped much by newcomer Chan's stiff performance.
Throw in the hugely stereotyped Russian and Chinese baddies and the car chases and fights that director Boaz Yakin shoots so shakily they're impossible to follow, and Statham's the only thing left to like here. Sadly even he seems on autopilot-- maybe forcing him into an American accent robbed him of his charisma, or else he realized at some point that Safe is beneath even his own generous standards. As the citizens of New York pick up the pieces after all this carnage, afraid to get on the subway or step into restaurants or trust their police force, they'll ask Statham why this had to happen,why bring so much pain to their city. Even though the carnage in Safe isn't real, you'll probably be left asking the same question-- and Statham will simply shrug, pocket another paycheck, flex his muscles, and walk off into the horizon like a hero whether or not he actually deserves it.