RATING |

In "Safe," adventures in baby-sitting take on ultra-violent 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 Chinese girl (Catherine Chan) sought by warring mobs of Chinese, Russians and dirty NYPD cops.

The girl is a math genius employed by mob leader (James Hong) to store all of 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, snapped 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 is, more so than any movie this year save "The Raid: Redemption," and is a well-deserved "R."

Its audience is the hardcore action aficionado — there were a few faint-of-heart walkouts at the promo 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 back stories of major players.

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

Contact movie critic Gary Thompson at 215-854-5992 or thompsg@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "Keep It Reel," at www.philly.com/keepitreel.