Professional tough guy Jason Statham's new film SAFE — new to DVD, Blu-ray and digital this week — is not a very good movie. But it's not a bad one either, and it illustrates nicely the many reasons that Statham is the best action movie star working today.
In Safe, Staham plays Luke Wright, a mobbed-up punching bag on the mixed martial arts circuit. When Luke makes a costly mistake in a rigged fight, the Russian Mafia kills his family and hands down a baroque punishment: Luke will be watched for the rest of his life, and anyone he befriends will also be killed. Russian mobsters — what can you do?
Meanwhile, we meet 11-year-old Chinese math prodigy Mei (Catherine Chan), who has been kidnapped by New York City's criminal Triads to serve as their “counter.” Mei can track numbers better than any computer, and she doesn't leave any paper trails.
Will Luke and Mei team up? Will Luke's mysterious past come into play? Will Mei offer him a road to redemption?
Safe is predictable in its broad strokes, but that's part of the deal with movies like this and director Boaz Yakin (Remember the Titans) has some fun playing with the form. First off, he avoids any cheap sentimentality between Luke and Mei. Safe is reminiscent at times of Luc Besson's French thriller The Professional, which featured a similar relationship between Jean Reno and a young Natalie Portman.
Yakin also strips the action story down to its chassis — this movie is built for speed. After the initial exposition, Safe is essentially one long chase sequence as Luke and Mei outrun Chinese gangsters, Russian psychos and a corrupt NYPD squad.
But the director's best move is simply letting Statham do what he does best. As an action hero, Statham provides the whole package. He can handle himself in a fight scene — Statham has trained in martial arts and does most of his own stunts. He projects those qualities we want in an action hero: resolve, competence, decency. And he looks great. The man can fill a sweater.
But Statham also brings intelligence and subtle humor. He know that his movies are mostly ridiculous, and there's a slight wink and nod in everything he does. Sometimes not so slight — consider his very fun 2006 film Crank, which takes action tropes into hallucinogenic realms.
For my money, Statham's best movie is The Bank Job, a British caper film set in 1970s London. Statham leads a huge ensemble cast to tell the real-file story of London's infamous Baker Street Robbery, which was supposedly covered up by authorities. (According to legend, the stolen loot included compromising photos of Princess Margaret.) Criminally underrated, The Bank Job is in the pantheon of great heist films.
As for Safe, it's one of those movies that plays better at home than at the cinema. I don't know that I'd want to burn an evening out on Safe, but it's a perfect movie for a night on the couch, when you want to turn off your head and eat a lot of something you shouldn't. It's a comfort movie, really.
Also New This Week:
Of the many great TV series tangling up America's DVRs and weekends, HBO's BORED TO DEATH stayed mostly under the radar during its three-season run. The story of a writer-turned-private-detective, Bored To Death is a great showcase for the comic superteam of Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson and Zach Galifianakis. Season Three comes out this week on DVD, Blu-ray and digital. Also look for season collections from HBO's HUNG and HOW TO MAKE IT IN AMERICA.
Adrien Brody and Colin Hanks headline the tetrahydrocannabinol comedy HIGH SCHOOL, in which the class valedictorian tries to mask his drug test results by getting the whole school stoned. Hijinks ensue.
From the Wayback Machine, the award-winning 1990s PBS kids show THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS has been issued to DVD in single-episode discs, three-packs and a box set compiling all 52 episodes over eight discs. If you want to get a jump on your holiday shopping, it's nutritious TV for the little ones.
Plus: Jason Segel and Emily Blunt in The Five-Year Engagement, the 9/11-themed festival favorite 8:46, the horror spoof Piranha 3DD and TV-on-DVD season series collections from 2 Broke Girls, Fringe, Grey's Anatomy, Haven, The Office and Parks & Recreation.