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In NY, Jason Statham looks to punch above his weight

April 18, 2012 |  9:26 am

NEW YORK -- Since he first appeared as Guy Ritchie's tough-talking muscle more than a decade ago, Jason Statham has pounded, head-butted, pummeled, hammered, shot, punched, knived, thrashed and battered countless of on-screen victims.

But for all his Schwarzeneggerian ambitions, Statham has perhaps never racked up a body count as large as that of “Safe,” Boaz Yakin's new crime-themed action movie, which sees more blood and bullets than a small Central American war.

At the movie’s New York premiere on Monday, Yakin was effusive about his star, and not just for his kill count. The actor, Yakin said before the screening, “adds some colors to the palette here, and he does it in a way that knocked me out." The pun was figurative. One hopes.

The film, which Lionsgate releases next week, takes the director back to the street action of his acclaimed indie debut, “Fresh,” though this is a movie meant to sell tickets to a no-translation-required global action crowd as much as it's designed to win Sundance awards (even if it does feature the producing hand of longtime/previous Quentin Tarantino collaborator Lawrence Bender and costars a bunch of streetwise theater-y types like Danny Hoch).

Its New York City-set story line, which unfolds in quick stolen moments between large public shootouts, centers on Statham’s fallen-from-grace former cop Luke Wright. Wright is petty much near the end of his rope — he’s living in a homeless shelter, threatened by Russian gangsters for not taking a dive in an MMA fight and occasionally getting beaten to a pulp by some dirty cops he presumably betrayed.

Then a chance encounter at a Brooklyn subway station with a young Chinese girl, a math prodigy who is violently sought by various criminal interests, brings him back. Wright becomes a one-man army fighting off rival, trigger-happy Russian and Chinese gangs who want to kidnap the girl, stopping occasionally to take violent revenge on his former cop co-workers. It's Rambo, only this time the war comes to America.

As the streets ran red with blood on screen, the premiere, thrown by the city's film event oriented the Cinema Society, brought its own color, what with the likes of Shaun White in the second row, a few rows in front of a suited and not-nearly-as-big-as-he-seems-on-screen Statham, scarfing it all up, and an after-party featuring Richard Kind meandering in late and pausing for a slider and a shot.
If you weren't watching that spectacle, it was fun to ponder a different if equally mayhem-y question -- namely, can Statham be the draw some have long imagined him to be? While he often draws 'em in overseas, the actor’s movies have grossed modest amounts in the U.S.: The totals for nearly all his star vehicles have come in the $25-million to $35-million range. There’s a dearth of action movies and stars around right now, which should give Statham and a film like “Safe” an edge. But it’s hard to say if that dearth creates public interest or springs from a lack of same.

As for Yakin's prospects, well, you can’t say the director isn't trying. After "Fresh," he went in a totally different direction with the repressive Hasidic story, “A Price Above Rubies,” then zagged to a Denzel Washington football movie in “Remember the Titans." Most recently, he wandered out further with a polarizing post-Holocaust movie called "Death in Love" that played Sundance a few years back.
"Safe" would seem to be an attempt to regain some commercial footing. Sometimes you start to take out your palette, then realize all you really want is a good pounding.


Jason Statham doesn't play it 'Safe'

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Jason Statham and Jay Giannone in "Safe." Credit: Lionsgate