'Safe House' is role that has been done before

Ryan Reynolds plays a CIA spook in "Safe House." SOURCE UNIVERSAL PICTURES
February 20, 2012

Safe House will be considered by many as a breathlessly paced, gritty, hard-edged action picture. That is, if they have yet to see any other film starring Denzel Washington (most notably "Training Day" or "Unstoppable,"), or a film directed by Tony Scott (most notably "The Last Boy Scout," "Domino," "Man on Fire," or "Deja Vu" - the latter two starring Washington), or, really, just about any espionage action film in general in the past three decades.

It's Spy Thriller 101 all the way with "Safe House." There's nothing offensively wrong with the flick; it's just so frustratingly predictable and far beneath the talents of its marquee names.

Ryan Reynolds costars as a CIA spook stuffed into a tiny government-owned facility in Cape Town, South Africa. He's basically an overpaid house sitter who is more like "The Bored Identity."

And then ... the legendary Tobin Frost (Washington) crashes his pad. Who is Tobin Frost? We are repeatedly told by all secondary characters that he's a master in the spy world. A former agent who apparently has gone off the grid amidst controversy and professes his innocence while maintaining cool detachment. How badass is he? During a waterboarding session, he has enough wits and wit to comment on his torture towel's thread count.

When a group of Ethnically Diverse Bad Guys (played by a group of ethnically diverse, no-name actors) raids the facility, Tobin plots his escape, making sure to toy with and school Reynolds' character along the way. Back in Langley, Va., we have a HQ full of fretful higher-ups, barking orders to bring Tobin in, dead or alive.There's Schlubby Overweight Mentor (played by Brendan Gleeson), Sternly Earnest, Hard-Nosed Lady Boss (played by Vera Farmiga), and Grizzled, Square-Jawed Executive Boss-Guy (played by Sam Shepard). It will come as no surprise to learn that Tobin was set up by someone on the inside, and I will not reveal that person's identity here, but I assure you if you have deductive powers adept enough to open a tube of toothpaste, you'll figure it out fairly quickly.

There is an occasional unexpected crash or bang, but the film's Hack Screenwriter (David Guggenheim) apparently scribbled "Safe House" on a wet-nap, leaving little room for character development, plot deviation, originality or suspense. Once it was delivered to Unknown Director (Daniel Espinosa), he, in turn, made sure that it was filmed through mud-smeared lenses by seizure-prone camera operators, then edited by a Red Bull-swilling staff who felt that three seconds was far too long to hold a single shot.

There's plenty more in "Safe House" that feels like it's included because that is what its producers have seen in so many other films. So, hey, why not? (Like the random title cards telling us it's "3:15 p.m. Monday." Whew! Thanks for that, guys! I was unable to follow anything until I found out just what day of the week it was. Now it all makes sense!) It merely pickpockets, grafts, steals and pilfers from any number of far superior - hell, even strenuously average - films of this ilk that clutter the "action" section of Netflix.

There is not a scene that does not feel like a threadbare hand-me-down, and it's only marginally elevated by Washington and Reynolds (really just Washington), who make it look effortless. And for Washington, it truly is effortless, because "Safe House" is a role that has been done so many, many times before.

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