Safe House

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safe houseSafe House had the worst trailer. It showed a cocky Denzel Washington trying to provoke a nervous Ryan Reynolds. And lots of explosions.

The display ad in the newspaper had the worst tag line: No One is Safe.

So when I brought my date on Valentine’s Day to see it (because that’s how I roll), I was surprised it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. Don’t get me wrong, this was a very disappointing picture. It just could’ve been worse.

Washington ends up at the American consulate in South Africa, after a bunch of bad guys try to kill him. He’s brought to a safe house, that turns out to not be so safe.

In an interesting scene, he gets waterboarded. I love that director Daniel Espinosa showed it to be a painful experience for Washington, and not just him lifting his head and saying something like “Thank you sir, may I have another?”

I just wish this director (who my friend knows, and has been telling me is a genius that makes amazing films in Sweden), would’ve had more moments like that.

We get this build up of how Washington is a rogue CIA agent (is there any other kind?). We also learn that he’s the best interrogator ever, and he wrote the book on how to get information from people. Yet he double-crossed the CIA and is making millions selling their secrets. It’s easy to assume Washington is probably the good guy, since one of the folks after him is Sam Shepard (always a welcome sight on screen). Sometimes actors just have a history that lets you know who is who, but…this screenplay is so sloppy, you see this stuff coming down Broadway. There were very few surprises (aside from where Washington decides to hide the file in his body).

The fight scenes are well done, and the car crashes are kind of cool; but we’ve seen car crashes before. We’ve seeing people running across tin roofs, being shot and explosions…we’ve seen the rookie agent trying to do the right thing. Instead, what I wonder is – if you have a set up like Silence of the Lambs – where we’re told this dangerous guy is a great manipulator of people, and we have a rookie agent talking to him (Jodi Foster in that film), let’s see him using those skills. Two different times Washington tried getting in various agents heads, and they just told him to shut up, and they stuck to their plan.

Don’t even get me started on the bad guys, who are so great at finding out where Washington is, yet so incompetent when it comes to anything else. I’m also wondering why, when a twist comes later in the movie, these thugs would’ve been doing what they were doing. I can’t say more without spoiling anything.

The cast is certainly impressive. We get Brendan Gleeson, who never gives a bad performance; Vera Farmiga, Robert Patrick (where has he been since Terminator?), Ruben Blades, and Ryan Reynolds, who has only done one movie I’ve liked – Adventureland. He wouldn’t have been bad in this, if he was given better lines than “Is this legal?”

When I watch an arrogant Denzel handcuffed to a water heater, I thought about one of the best films ever made – Midnight Run. Listening to a cocky Charles Grodin get under Robert De Niro’s skin was so much more fun.

There was a point in this movie where I saw a bunch of people striking. They were holding signs and shouting and I thought – it’s always either a protest or a parade that helps the protagonist escape. I forgot about the marching band at a sporting event, which of course, was used later.

I thought it was a travesty that Washington didn’t get nominated for an Oscar playing a functioning alcoholic military investigator in Courage Under Fire (Meg Ryan). I was equally shocked when he won the Oscar for Training Day, which was garbage. This film leans closer to Training Day (which also had a young, white rookie officer). Geez, why not just make a silly buddy flick instead of yet another action picture?

And please, can we stop with the shaky-cam already? It works when Jason Bourne is running and jumping around, because it’s used in small doses and gives us his point of view.

This movie might work for folks that have never seen an espionage flick before. They’ll be excited by the riding in the car trunk scene, that foreigner you trust who can make a passport, and they’ll be sad watching the talk with the woman that doesn’t know your real profession. Nobody else will.

Washington is reminding me a lot of Liam Neeson – talented actors that are later in their career – wanting to stick with action pictures. Is it just about the paycheck?

Washington looked a little like a younger Morgan Freeman when he had the big hair going. Perhaps his next step will be narrating every film he’s in.

My date said as we left “We should’ve seen The Vow.”

It was hard for me to argue the point.

This gets 2 out of 5 stars.

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