adventures in babysitting take on an ultraviolent dimension.

The bloody actioner, filmed partly in Philadelphia, stars Jason Statham as a homeless palooka with mysteriously good fighting skills who decides to protect an orphaned girl (Catherine Chan) sought by warring mobs of Chinese, Russians, and dirty NYPD cops.

The girl is a math genius employed by a mob leader (James Hong) to store his bookkeeping data in her head, beyond the reach of electronic hackers and investigators. Her prized secrets make her the wanted-dead-or-alive target of various criminal factions. Statham is the essentially decent knight-errant who volunteers to protect her - by any means necessary.

Safe has an astoundingly high body count and leverages Statham's talent for martial combat to a new, grisly level of violence. The Statham who became a star with The Transporter was a stylist whose physicality was set to a hip-hop beat and sometimes played for laughs. Here, he's a grim and remorseless assassin, and director Boaz Yakin wants you to feel (and hear) every broken bone and cracked skull.

No one would describe Statham's cinematic persona as pacifist, but his movie brand is one that prefers fists and feet to bullets. In Safe, his hands are lethal weapons, but so are his guns, which come in as many sizes and shapes as the multinational multitudes that he murders.

Are you getting the message that Safe is violent?

It's audience is the hard-core action aficionado - there were a few faint-of-heart walkouts at the screening I attended.

There is a plot in there somewhere, though the most interesting wrinkles don't show up until the third act, when writer-director Yakin - whose varied career includes movies as wildly diverse as Remember the Titans and Fresh - starts to link the backstories of the film's major characters.

It plays much better than the prologue - full of cartoon-scale depictions of gangland thugs as they are prepared for slaughter.

Safe **1/2 (out of four stars)

Directed by Boaz Yakin. With Jason Statham, Catherine Chan, Chris Sarandon, and James Hong. Distributed by Lionsgate.

Running time: 1 hour, 35 mins.

Parent's guide: R (violence).

Playing at: Area theaters.