Thursday, April 26, 2012

SAFE is anything but -- and Boaz Yakin's "chase" thriller is one of the genre's best

SAFE is a knockout, better even than 2010's Taken, and if there's justice in the movie world -- hah -- the film will be this year's genuine sleeper. As good as anything coming from the Luc Besson stable, the movie is tight and swift, fun and funny -- and nasty as hell. It should also put its filmmaker, Boaz Yakin (shown below), permanently on the map as a first-class genre director, though I somehow doubt Mr Yakin, shown below, wants to be pigeon-holed quite like that. He's talented enough but too versatile. His career jumps from genre to genre (Death in Love, anyone?), with only a rare misstep (Uptown Girls), and I suspect that's the way he wants it. Safe should prove his most successful movie since Remember the Titans.

An action thriller, with emphasis on chase, Safe offers one of the best and most intriguing beginnings that the genre has given us. We're in a dank and dreary New York subway station, following a little Asian girl, who is clearly frightened. Something's amiss. Then we go back only a short time to the same girl being threatened by Russian mobsters. Then back even farther in time to her schoolroom in China, where she embarrasses her teacher and makes her class -- and us -- laugh. Then comes a kidnapping.

All this takes place in the first few minutes. But so cleverly has Yakin, as writer and director, set things up that by now we know fully well why this child is so important and why she's being sought by the Russian mob (below), Chinese gangsters (above) and dirty New York City cops. And it ain't, praise be to Boaz, all about human trafficking. At least, not in the manner we're most often served up.

Yakin understands how much more fun it is to have several sets of bad guys, and he's outdone himself here. These are some of the nastiest creeps you'll come across (that's Robert John Burke, below, as the cops' venal Captain), and the sense you get from the film that all -- and I mean everyone and everything -- has gone corrupt is very nearly enveloping and hard to shake. In any case, whatever happens to these villains down the line, Yakin makes sure that we won't give a shit. His actions scenes are crackerjack, and so are his (very few) quieter moments.

The filmmaker is also smart about how much carnage he should show us; he gives us more sudden shocks of violence, impressive in their spontaneity and terror (one such moment, as guests are being herded out of a swank restaurant by a Chinese crime lord, brought an audible gasp from the screening audience), but he never overdoes the blood and gore. The most horrific event is not shown at all. His star -- a very well-used Jason Statham (below) -- simply walks into a room, then comes out of it, broken.

Statham pretty much holds the action-hero crown right now, and he deserves it. He brings the usual and necessary reserve, strength and fighting skills to the table -- but he leaves his own, singular imprint on the proceedings. If I'm not mistaken, the guy looks a little pudgier in this role, but that's fine, as his character has been through a rough time and is only now starting to come out the other side.

Staham's co-star, who sweetly steals the movie without a moment of undue pushing, is a little Chinese actress named Catherine Chan (above). This is her first American film, but I can't imagine we won't see her again soon -- maybe in the sequel to Safe, which is set up nicely at the film's conclusion, so there surely ought to be one. Ms Chan combines intelligence, fear and humor in a unique combination that is as much of a knockout as the movie itself. She keeps nearly everything up her sleeve, giving us but a tiny glimpse now and then, and so we root for her all the more.

At 95 minutes, the movie seems just the right length. I don't know that I'd have cut anything here. And while there are no doubt a few things that don't quite make sense, so fast and furiously does the movie move that you'll have no time to question until it's over and you've caught your breath. If you're looking for solid, stylish, non-stop action tagged to an enticing plot, Safe is the best bet around.

We'll see how the movie, from Lionsgate, does with audiences and critics, when it opens tomorrow -- Friday, April 27, all over my town (NYC) -- and probably yours. You can check out the nationwide playdates by clicking here, entering your zip code, and accessing GET TICKETS NOW.

2 comments:

movidora said...

I like very much your description and comments, so soon "Safe" is to be seen I go although I am not so interested in the genre . Last week in Spain I was so disappointed about "The cold light of day" and many Spanish friends were upset. Thank you for your blog, the best for me.
Greetings from Karlsruhe
Movidora

James van Maanen said...

Hi, again, Movidora!

If you are not a fan of the chase/thriller genre, then perhaps SAFE is not a film for you. The Cold Light of Day has not opened over here as yet, so I have no idea if I'll like it. (It has a good cast, though!) But I note that its IMDB rating is not very high. So you and your friends may be right!

Meanwhile, thanks so much for your appreciation of my blog. I do love movies, and want to give them (when they deserve it) a boost! And I feel lucky that I am considered good enough to be invited to critics' screenings.
Best,
--Jim v.