Mei (Catherine Chan) and Luke Wright (Jason Statham) in "Safe." (John Baer / Lionsgate )
Would "Safe"be as brutally fun as it is without Jason Statham's gravel-voiced comic timing and explosive physicality?
Writer-director Boaz Yakin's urban shoot-em-up isn't exactly the most cohesive narrative, throwing together the Russian mob, the Triads, dirty cops (led by Robert John Burke) and a corrupt mayor (Chris Sarandon) into a New York turf war over a bunch of coded numbers that lead to … who cares, really?
It's the pairing of Statham's disgraced cage fighter and ex-cop — pushed to the brink of suicide by gangsters who killed his wife — with an endangered 12-year-old Chinese math whiz (Catherine Chan) sought after by the aforementioned axis of movie evil that makes for the film's viciously enjoyable odds-beating vengeance.
Yakin understands the appeal of Statham, a bullet-headed, snarling yet occasionally kind-faced bruiser whose brand of mano-a-many fighting has been effectively deployed for sleek European thrills ("The Transporter"), baroque mayhem ("Crank") and now a Charles Bronson-style B-movie rumble.
Yakin gives his star plenty of room to look mean, think fast, drive faster, punch, quip, mow down and charismatically bond with the most imperiled child character in screen memory.
There's nothing terribly original about "Safe," but it's a suitably grimy playground for action cinema's reigning pit bull.