Poor Jason Statham. Could we ask for a better action star? More graceful than Steven Seagal, more droll than Jet Li, more charming than Bruce Willis. And, as “Transporter 3” proved, more adept at sparring romantically than most. So how dispiriting to see him underserved once again, with a clattery vehicle like Boaz Yakin’s “Safe.”
“Safe” incorporates “Transporter” elements — Mr. Statham protects an innocent, drives fast and wears a suit jacket with aplomb — but prefers loud, congested Manhattan to the South of France. Luke Wright (Mr. Statham) is a mixed-martial-arts fighter whose wife is murdered by the Russian mafia after he won’t throw a fight.
Homeless, he contemplates suicide until he sees a Chinese 12-year-old, Mei (Catherine Chan), chased by the same gangster tormentors on a Brooklyn subway platform. Mei, it turns out, is a math prodigy who knows a code coveted by the Chinese Triads, the Russians and corrupt cops. Luke, it turns out, has a history in law enforcement.
Bring on the redemption, overabundant shootouts and whiplash editing. Regrettably, there’s less fancy footwork than usual for Mr. Statham (though a crunchy hand-to-hand subway brawl has its delights). And few opportunities to display actorly nuance (especially with his young co-star). Still, a long close-up of Luke grieving for his wife suggests remarkable depths.
Quentin Tarantino’s producer Lawrence Bender believes in Mr. Statham; he is a producer of “Safe.” So does Kevin Spacey, an executive producer here. Now, if only someone would offer this actor a project worthy of the full range of his talent.
“Safe” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Profuse gunplay. Insufficient fisticuffs and character-defining moments.