Mei (Chan), a ten year-old Chinese maths genius, is brought to New York by Triads. After she has memorised a number code, Mei is abducted by Russian mobsters, but escapes. Luke Wright (Statham), a down-and-out city man, sees the girl being chased and intervenes, ultimately setting him against the Triads, the Russians, crooked cops and the Mayor.
An agile hardman in fight, chase and stunt scenes (note his unconventional way of getting on and off subway trains), Statham flexes acting muscles as his burnout character comes to life and finds greater purpose in a) protecting a small child and b) taking down three whole factions of New York bad guys in one night.
A confident prologue hops back and forth in time, doling out story snippets which set grown-up hero and child heroine on an unstoppable collision course. Here, Statham’s Luke Wright is established as a former garbage collector/cage fighter who has failed to throw a fight and is cursed by Russian hoods. They murder his wife but leave him alive with the promise to kill anyone he makes friends with — even the bum in a homeless shelter to whom he gives a pair of shoes. Meanwhile, Mei, a young numbers whizz with a photographic memory, is enslaved to a Triad boss (veteran James Hong) — who hates computers and electronic data trails — and learns how to survive in a ruthless business.
Once the duo get together — working up a not-cute bond which adds a touch of humour to the grittiness — the film takes place over a long, busy night. Writer-director Boaz Yakin, who’s been making respectable stuff lately (Remember The Titans) but started with offbeat little pictures (Fresh), can stage a shoot-out or a punch-up with the best of them. He constantly ups the stakes, pitting our hero against don’t-give-a-hoot baddies who smugly mow down innocents because they mistakenly think they’re untouchable — not realising until halfway through that the ‘garbage collector’ gig on Luke’s CV is a euphemism for what he really did for the city. Unashamed of its old-school roots, it has an up-to-the-moment feel, exemplified by Mark Mothersbaugh’s exciting score — which evokes the pulse-pounding chords of vintage Lalo Schifrin or Jerry Goldsmith without imitating them.
A rough, exhausting, exhilarating action picture with a payoff which would have delighted Sam Fuller or Howard Hawks. The Stath — an actual Olympian, remember — is on top form.
Reviewed by Kim Newman