A Compromised ‘Safe House’

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

 

Shootouts. Car chases. Espionage. A villainous Denzel Washington. These appeared to be the driving force for the marketing of “Safe House,” and I didn’t complain. Hell, the film looked pretty damn cool, and I was pumped.

 

However, as I sat cross-legged in the movie theater while watching “Safe House,” I had the sinking feeling that I’ve already seen it before. As the credits rolled, I realized what bothered me: from beginning to end, the film is a compilation of all that has already been done. Beneath the clout and facade of everything that seems so awesome is a film that’s so unoriginal that it almost borders on the criminally lazy.

 

Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), a former CIA operative gone rogue for nearly a decade, enters the U.S. consulate in South Africa while being pursued by mercenaries. In true American fashion, the CIA accepts him with open arms by taking him to a safe house managed by aspiring rookie agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds), where they proceed to waterboard him for information.

 

Just when the interrogators decide to take the torture to another level, the safe house comes under attack by the mercenaries. Weston, knowing that he’s responsible for his houseguest, takes Frost and flees the scene. The former agent toys with Weston’s mind, implying that someone at the top brass is working with the baddies. The uneasy duo must stay alive long enough to uncover who exactly wants them dead.

 

So, where to start? I’ll say that if you have ever watched films that are remotely similar to the plot of “Safe House,” then you may as well have already watched the film in its entirety. Its predictability knows no bounds; you’ll always be one step ahead of the narrative. You’ll know what actions that Weston and Frost take, including when shit is about to go down. By the time Frost suggests that one of Weston’s superiors is working with the mercenaries, you should already know who it is. If not, then you’re probably doing yourself a favor if your goal is to enjoy the film.

 

The way that the film is handled as a whole proves that what the filmmakers are going for are spectacular set pieces. A car chase sequence feels as if it was shoehorned right in simply for the sake of having one, and doesn’t make sense because Weston is supposed to be a rookie and shouldn’t know how to pull stunts like he does when driving. At one point, there is a confrontation at a crowded soccer stadium. Now, as much as I want this beautiful sport to be more appreciated by Americans, the impression I get from this scene is that it’s here only because there’s tens of thousands of people there, and that ideally makes it much more intense. Although there’s enough spectacle here to grab your attention, it’s ultimately hollow.

 

On paper, Denzel Washington’s performance should be downright badass, no questions asked. Sadly, this doesn’t turn out to be the case, and for good reason. Frost should be a compelling character, but he’s not. Nothing really moves him into breaking away from the facial expression that he keeps for most of the film, so he remains a flat character. In short, Washington plays Alonzo Harris from “Training Day” without the charisma, which is akin to him sleepwalking rather than actually acting.

 

Ryan Reynolds does a fair job in portraying Weston. Sure, the character may seem too much of a Boy Scout for some to believe, and his personal life is thinly developed via an extremely limp romance, but Reynolds puts honesty in his performance and really brings out Weston’s fear.

 

There’s a supporting cast full of some A-grade performers like Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga and Sam Shepard, but none of them bring their A-game. The trio here portrays three high-ranking CIA officials, but there’s only so much that they can do when the only thing that the script requires of them is to look worried.

 

Even the action sequences aren’t very inspired. Though they do capture the crashes, bangs and wallops that are required from any such scenes, they’re not altogether very fun to watch, and at times, the use of shaky cam makes it difficult for you to follow what the hell is going on.

 

Though “Safe House” does keep you in your seat to be at least watchable, it has an air of laziness about it that’s too difficult to ignore, especially since it touches nearly every aspect of this production.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5