Saturday, 7 April 2012

SAFE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Poorly directed and edited action scenes drag down the filmmaker's otherwise solid script. Bonus: The film has inspired new critical terminology (and acronym).

Safe (2012) dir. Boaz Yakin **1/2
Starring: Jason Statham, Catherine Chan, Chris Sarandon
Review By Greg Klymkiw

I'm getting so sick and tired of the stupid, lazy and annoying short attention spanned style that permeates contemporary action and suspense films that I have decided to create a whole new critical term (and suitable acronym) to describe it. I will henceforth now call this serious aesthetic affliction - CADD (Cinematic Attention Deficit Disorder). Movies afflicted with CADD are aimed at a generation of movie-goers who may or may not be morons, but to be charitable, I'd like to think they deserve better than a style that is ultimately a sure sign that a director is bereft of any real talent, voice and/or imagination. The symptoms are real. They can be spotted immediately. Learn to recognize them. They're simple to identify - ADHD-styled shooting and cutting wherein the camera never rests for more than a few seconds on (oft-times) a poorly composed shot which is blended with others of the same ilk and subsequently thrown willy-nilly into a furiously cut montage-like to fake rhythm and mask the fact that the director has no idea of how to convey a sense of geography, of space and place. This utilization of montage has nothing to do with conveying information regarding a narrative's dramatic/emotional beats nor bothers to provide juxtapositional imagery that presents - God forbid - a thought or idea.

CADD denies audiences who love genre films (as I do), the true power and beauty of an exquisitely choreographed dance, chase or fight. I feel a wee twinge of sadness that Jason Statham's new action extravaganza Safe is the straw that finally broke this camel's back. It's ultimately not a good picture, but nor is it anywhere near the most dreadful purveyors of CADD.

Safe has the distinction of a pretty decent 70s-style screenplay written by its CADD-challenged director Boaz Yakin and features several action set pieces that, on paper, are terrific, but in execution, are well below that watermark.

Statham is really a wonderful action hero actor. He's got a great mug, he's lean and mean and he sure can fight. In Safe he plays a washed-up NYC cop who turn-coated on the corruption within the department and now earns a living as a cage-match boxer. When he accidentally kills an opponent in the ring and in so doing, does not throw the fight as he was supposed to, the Russian mob brutally murders his wife and then informs him that they will inflict the worst possible punishment on him. They will not kill him. They will always have their eyes on him and whenever he displays any kindness to someone, or in turn is the recipient of said kindness, it is the purveyor of kindness who will be killed.

This is not a bad setup for a nasty revenge picture. Other than his wife, Statham's character has no surviving family and all his friends were the guys in the police force he ratted on - and yet, in several instances he has chance meetings with strangers who try to bestow kindness upon him and they're summarily dispatched. This forces him ever deeper into a lonely, mute existence.

At one point, Statham is about to throw himself in front of a train until he spots a tiny, clearly terrified Asian girl on the subway platform and he fuethermore discovers a whole mess of goons who appear to be looking for her.

This becomes his salvation - he becomes the protector of this child and like a one-man army he takes on the Russian Mob, the Asian Mob, a corrupt Mayor, the whole city bureaucracy and, most amusingly, the entire NYC police force. With twists, turns and double crosses aplenty, Safe is at least endowed with a decent script.

Alas, Yakin as a director is afflicted with CADD. The action and suspense occasionally has a visceral power, but from a directorial/editorial standpoint, these set-pieces are shot with tin eyes and cut with a cudgel. Sequences that should thrill become tiring, sometimes dull and often, unnecessarily convoluted.

In past decades, directors who didn't have the style to pull off bravura action utilized their craft and comfortably fell back on the tried and true approach of using mostly used long, wide or medium shots and only punching in for anything closer when there was a reason to do so. Most of the time, they'd let superb camera work hang back to capture first-rate stunt/action choreography and armed with solid coverage, the pictures would be edited in a spare fashion. Cuts moved the narrative and emotion forward - even in action scenes. Nowadays, more often than not, they simply pretend to do so - in all the worst ways.

I'm also not saying actions scenes can't utilize a myriad of shots with fast cuts, but this takes directors who are inherently blessed with the artistry to do so. They're few and far between. Sam Peckinpah had it. Martin Scorsese, Paul Greengrass, Steven Spielberg and John Woo have it. Even a handful of directors on previous Statham action pictures have it (Neveldine/Taylor, Luc Besson's stable of Gallic young turks and numerous Asian directors).

Yakin doesn't have it. He thwarts his own decent script with his CADD affliction. He's in good company, though. J.J. Abrams and Christopher Nolan are afflicted with this woeful tendency to ruin action scenes. Abrams was recently saved by his producer Spielberg and Nolan occasionally places his faith in solid second unit guys, but when both are left to their own devices the results are dire.

Safe is more watchable than most. It has a decent cast and a good story. The script has a nicely observed array of action archetypes and smatterings of terse, punchy tough-guy talk. Yakin would do well to abandon this CADD approach to directing and work on the craft exemplified by camera jockeys of days gone by. They might well have been hacks in their own way, but they delivered the goods.

"Safe" in in wide release from Alliance Films.