By Mack Chico
The action thriller Safe House provides reasonable entertainment for someone looking for something to divert their attention for two hours and a little more. By no means is this movie bad, it just isn’t very memorable. It goes into the category of recycled action movies like Bourne Identity ripoffs that have come and gone. Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds deliver what is expected of them but nothing more. The action sequences are perhaps the best part of the film and worth the rental. Overall, Safe House does the trick
The storyline uses the tired scenario of a corrupt CIA mole doing everything within his/her power to avoid discovery. That includes killing the man who has obtained a file containing proof of the misdeeds of every American and British agent on the take. This man, Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), is a former elite agent who went rogue a decade ago and has been in hiding since then. He has been branded as a traitor by his former employees, but his name is legendary. When he unexpectedly walks into the U.S. Consulate in South Africa, no one is sure of his motives. He is transferred to a safe house for interrogation. A hit squad pursuing him locates the safe house and slaughters everyone there except Tobin and untried agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds), who survive the massacre and go on the run. The CIA gives Weston orders about where to go but, since there’s a mole in Langley, the bad guys are always one step ahead.
At nearly two hours, the movie is at least 30 minutes too long.
Safe House tries to be a little different by not transforming into a buddy film. No warmth is evident between Frost and Weston, who remain adversaries almost to the end. Some sort of relationship, however, might have been preferable. By not feeding off one another, the characters remain inert; there’s no urgency or spark in their interaction – they are merely sharing the screen when required by the story. Frost is as much of an enigma at the end as at the beginning, although his aura of invincibility has been punctured. Weston, on the other hand, transforms with little motivation into a crusader.
Washington could do this role in his sleep, which is close to what he accomplishes. For an actor with such range and ability, it’s a disappointment to see him bring so little to a part that cries out for a bravura performance. Despite his strong work in Buried, Reynolds has yet to show the ability to carry an action film (The Green Lantern, in fact, offers evidence to the contrary) and Safe House argues that he’s too lightweight for darker material. The secondary cast, which includes accomplished character actors Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga, and Sam Shepard, represents a wasted pool of talent. For the most part, they sit around in a situation room in Langley and provide background information on Frost and Weston.
The decision to release Safe House in the middle of February can be seen as a tacit admission by Universal Pictures that expectations are limited. Films like this, if they wow a distributor, will be favorably placed for a summer or holiday slot. Safe House probably looked better on paper than it does on film, which is regrettably true of many movies dotting the multiplex landscape at this time of year. One can only hope that 2012’s “legitimate” Bourne sequel offers more than this lackluster Bourne imitation.
Swedish director from Chilean parents, Daniel Espinosa, has a style that is reminiscent of that of Tony Scott with a lot of shaky hand-held shots.