Safe House
Denzel Goes Rogue

It was fitting that the recent promotional screening of Safe House was preceded by a trailer for The Bourne Legacy, as the style of this movie is in much the same vein as that franchise.  In fact, pretty much everything about Safe House will remind audiences of other, better movies.  The lack of originality is balanced out, however, by the likeability of the movie’s star.

The action takes place in Cape Town, South Africa, where a junior CIA agent named Matt Weston is charged with the menial task of tending one of the agency’s many safe houses.  He spends much of his days bouncing a ball off the wall and just waiting for a chance to prove himself.  He gets the opportunity when a veteran agent who went rogue nine years ago suddenly turns himself in to the local American consulate.  Wanted for selling secrets to the enemy, Tobin Frost is the first “guest” of the safe house in Weston’s tenure as the housekeeper.

As explained by Frost himself, the number one rule for the housekeeper is that he is responsible for his house guests.  That task becomes difficult when a team breaks into the house determined to capture Frost and kill anyone, including Weston, that gets in their way.  Weston takes Frost on the run with the goal of getting him to another safe house.  That’s easier said than done considering he must not only avoid his attackers, but he must also keep the slippery Frost from escaping his grasp.  Another unknown is whether the new safe house will even live up to its name.

Ryan Reynolds as Weston in Safe HouseSafe House is loaded with car chases and shootouts, all in the same handheld-camera, rapidly-edited style that was a staple of the Bourne franchise.  For the most part, it works well, but there are times when the action definitely gets a little dizzying and I found myself wishing they’d just set the camera on a tripod or dolly for a couple of shots.  Ultimately, none of the car chase sequences or shootouts stand out as memorable, but there is an excellent down-and-dirty fight scene between Weston and another character at a key point.

The Bourne films weren’t the only movies that obviously served as inspirations for director Daniel Espinosa and screenwriter David Guggenheim, but you know what they say, if you are going to steal, steal from the best.  That is just what they did as one key shootout in the film absolutely echoes the climactic shootout in L.A. Confidential.  The one-on-one scene that follows also brings back memories of that 1997 classic, but this movie’s character does what Guy Pearce’s Ed Exley decided not to do in that movie and that scene then dissolves into an ending that has been seen dozens of times in Hollywood.  Then there is the final shot, which is pretty much a repeat of the finale of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol only a few months ago.

What makes Safe House enjoyable despite its lack of originality are its stars, mainly Denzel Washington.  It seems that many big-name, award-winning actors like Washington often get labeled as sellouts when they show up in a bunch of what might be considered B-movies (see Nicolas Cage), but you’ll never hear that uttered about Washington.  Why?  Because it is very clear from his performances that he takes these roles, not because he has to, but because he wants to.  He enjoys these movies.  He enjoys the action, he enjoys the one-liners, he enjoys being a badass, and his enjoyment is infectious.  Led by Ryan Reynolds, the rest of the cast does a fine job, but it is Denzel who makes the movie.

The stale plot and mostly unmemorable action means Safe House is not going to break many box-office records, but Denzel and company do just enough to keep us entertained in the cold winter months.

Safe House is rated R for “strong violence throughout and some language.”  There’s plenty of violence, blood, and language to warrant the rating.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Safe House.