A word of advice to all you young math whizzes out there: Best keep your aptitude for long division to yourself. Otherwise, you might end up like preteen genius Mei (Catherine Chan), who’s forcibly whisked from her Chinese homeland to crunch numbers for a New York–based Triad organization (run by James Hong, no less). Fortunately for our egghead heroine, a savior arrives in the form of erstwhile NYPD cop Luke Wright (Jason Statham), who’s been in a bit of a funk ever since the Russian mafia killed his lady friend. Just as he’s about to off himself by stepping in front of the DeKalb Avenue express, Luke spots a clearly distressed Mei in the hands of some big baddies, and the old ass-kicking instincts come back.
Writer-director Boaz Yakin (Remember the Titans) makes us wait for the fisticuffs, an inspired choice that allows the rough-hewn Statham to show off his primo brooding abilities. It also gives viewers ample time to acclimate to Safe’s immersive vision of modern-day Manhattan—a corruption-prone metropolis trapped somewhere between ’70s gritty and ’80s Bruckheimer slick. Just as Chuck Bronson had to break out the Magnums, however, so Statham needs to let loose the flying fists and groanworthy quips. The switch to full-on action is certainly enjoyable, especially an impressive car chase shot primarily from a rearview-mirror perspective. But you can’t help feeling that an initially adventurous movie has had its rough edges sanded away.
Follow Keith Uhlich on Twitter: @keithuhlich