SAFE – Blu-ray review

It’s a fascinating idea to use a child who’s an arithmetic prodigy as the central character of the film’s plot in “Safe” (2012).  An eleven-year old, Mei (Catherine Chan), can memorize long numbers and is able to perform long and complex calculations with relative ease. But the script is so chaotic that Mei is only used as a human calculator. In today’s world of modern technology, the idea of storing a complex number inside a human mind is utterly laughable, especially when smartphones and other sophisticated devices can do the same thing. As we see in the movie, a gangster asks Mei to memorize a long sequence of numbers, which is a code to a safe, from a sheet of paper, and when she is done memorizing, the gangster burns the paper. Needless to say, burning this paper sets the plot in motion, but I ask: Why is there a need to burn the code? Mei possesses extraordinary skills, and she can be utilized in many intelligent ways. But considering the dumb gangsters in “Safe,” one can’t help think that the entire movie is a failed attempt at being smart and cool.

Of course, the “dumb” goons are a creation of a writer’s mind, and the scenes highlight a big gap in basic cognitive skills between the gangsters and Mei.  Consider, for instance, in one scene, a local gangster asks Mei to give him the breakdown on profit-and-loss for each of their gambling outlets. Fair enough. Mei calculates the number, telling the gangster if the outlet is making money or losing money. Later, this gangster beats his employee to death, and then later at a dinner table, Mei asks why he beat him, if he was to die in the end. The gangster says, “You obviously don’t understand this business.” Looking at this scene, it is clear who fails to understand the nature of this business, if one cannot calculate a simple profit-loss equation for their business. Maybe Mei should teach these gangsters rudimentary arithmetic skills instead of acting as a human computer. Nonetheless, there are many scenes like this in the film, in which the dialogue is clichéd and the characters unimaginably boring, lacking basic wit and intelligence.

The plot moves with full speed as soon as Mei’s life intersects with that of the main protagonist, Luke (Jason Statham), who is working as a cage fighter in a mixed martial-arts circuit. As a former cop, Luke is banished from the city, living a lonely life. We learn that Luke, in the past, blows up a rigged fight, and the Russian mafia comes after him, killing his wife to set an example. One day at a train station, Luke sees the same Russian mobsters going after Mei, and he decides to jump in to save the girl. Mei reveals she has a big number memorized that will unlock a safe.  Soon we see the Russian mafia, the Chinese gang, and the corrupt cops come after Mei, so they can access a safe holding at least $30 million.

The film offers its best moments in the opening thirty minutes or so, in which we see an ailing Luke, grieving the loss of his wife and leading a despondent life. He is helpless yet never counters with violence, even when pushed to the limit. But when Mei enters in his life, Luke thinks saving her is the only way he can redeem himself from the dark past. Statham has played many roles as an action hero, and here he is perfectly acceptable and often convincing in the quiet moments. However, when action erupts in the story, Statham’s character loses its luster, as the emphasis now shifts on capturing violence and less on character development; the violence is visceral in some scenes, and the body count increases by the minute.  The pair of Statham and Chan put a lot of energy and heart into their scenes, but, unfortunately, the script doesn’t offer anything unique in the plot line, and their characters are predictable by the end.

From a technical perspective, “Safe” features fine editing in the action sequences. We see rapid cuts and well-done action segments that aptly depict the mess in the streets. The camera stays fairly stable and there are no nausea-inducing spinning moments. That being said, “Safe,” in the end, is a mindless flick, riddled with plot holes and often exemplifying heightened violence in order to entertain us. In the process, the script forgets to develop any substance from a good theme that had some potential early on.

“Safe” is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, transferred to Blu-ray using an AVC codec. The 1080p picture is warm and smooth, packing remarkable detail and sharpness. The close-ups are good looking and the flesh tones are realistic, never appearing washed out. There are a lot of energetic action sequences, but the camera movements are fairly stable.  However, even in action sequences, the transfer stays razor-sharp and the detail is consistently strong. Shot at 35mm, the film’s transfer retains the print’s natural grain, making for a natural, filmic transfer. Overall, this is a solid-looking release.

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is superb, perfectly capturing the action elements.  As expected, the dialogue is consistently clear and clean. However, at times, especially during conversations, the dialogue is not audible enough. During the action scenes, the rear channels are activated and there are thundering noises coming from all channels. In gunfights, the sounds of bullets leaving the gun are realistic and crystal-clear. Likewise, the bass is well controlled and its presence is felt in the lively action sequences.

In an audio commentary track with director Boaz Yakin, we get insights on the action themes of the ‘80s that inspired the movie as he talks about the characters and the writing process. Following this, “Cracking Safe” focuses on the elements that motivated Yakin to create this film. He briefly discusses the role of violence in action movies and what he likes to see in an action movie. Next, “Criminal Background” focuses on the sets and locations in New York City. Finally, “The Art of Gunfight” describes how the gunfight scenes are choreographed.

Parting Thoughts:
For the most part, “Safe” is a topsy-turvy ride that wants to be another “Crank” (2006). Jason Statham impresses only briefly, but that lack of impressiveness in the later scenes can be attribute to a disjointed script. Certainly, the film packs nonstop action, but after a while the action fizzles and it quickly develops into a headache. Fortunately, the Blu-ray offers a top-notch transfer, along with a terrific-sounding audio track.