Safe House (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
15Mar/121

Safe House (2012)

Safe House is a serviceable action film.  I would compare it to Hamburger Helper-- people have tasted the ingredients separately and when put together, nothing really changes.

You have the typical spy story plot that has played out in countless other films (the Hamburger helper seasoning), Denzel Washington playing the dashing, charismatic rogue (the meat from a nicer grocery store) and you have Ryan Reynolds looking pretty and not getting in the way of Denzel’s show (the noodles you put on top).  All together this is not going to be a meal that would change your world, but it is filling and worth the effort.

That is until the director tried to get fancy and edited the action scenes into an incomprehensible mess.  I liken this to putting an extra spice on the Hamburger Helper.  Now the formula has been ruined, something tastes off and a perfectly serviceable meal now will be choked down and washed away.

Ryan Reynolds here is like Beef Hamburger Helper. Or is it Beef Stroganov Hamburger Helper? It's hard to decide.

The movie stars Denzel Washington as Tobin Frost, a former CIA agent turned traitor.  It opens up on him picking up a flash drive in a meeting that goes wrong.  Soon his contact is dead, people are shooting at him and his day pretty much ruined.  Knowing that the odds are stacked against him, Frost turns himself into the American Embassy in Cape Town South Africa.

The man running the Safe House is CIA rookie Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) a man who is living on the ocean with a beautiful girlfriend but whines because his life isn’t exciting enough.  His life gets a kick in the nuts soon enough when Frost is ushered into the house under the control of Daniel Kiefer (Robert Patrick in another “Robert Patrick action movie role”).  Soon enough armed thugs break into the not-so-safe house and kill Kiefer in his men.  Frost and Weston escape because killing the stars in act one is not often done.

Apparently safe houses are like McDonalds overseas: you can find one on every few blocks. Weston valiantly tries to shepherd Frost to the next one so they can all get to the bottom of why people are trying to kill Frost.  Could it be that Frost has something on that flash drive that would implicate some powerful people in the government?  I know the answer since I saw the movie, but I probably could have guessed the answer would have been a big YES even beforehand.

This scenery is like a nice stack of pancakes with some eggs on the side.

The question then becomes, which of the higher ups that Weston has been talking to will turn out to be the mole?  Will it be Catherine Linklater (Vera Farmiga), David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson) or Harlan Whitford (Sam Shepard)?  Usually I go with my rule of the mole/turncoat/traitor will be the biggest star that isn’t the hero, but since all three actors are pretty much on the same level of popularity, it was harder to pinpoint than usual.

After many car chases, gun battles, fist fights and a soccer game, the leads find their way to the other Safe House and all questions are answered. Certain characters are killed and other ones walk off into the sunset John Wayne style.

I think Safe House is an action movie but I can’t say for certain because I had no idea what was going on action wise through most of the film.  While this might make me sound like an old man yelling out those kids to get off my lawn, I don’t understand why all action movies are now made with this hyperkinetic style where the camera is constantly shaking and no more than .0004 seconds can go by without another edit.

I have a hint for the director of this film; people paid money to see it for two reasons:

  1. To see Denzel Washington being Denzel-y.
  2. Shit blowing up really good and a lot of people meeting a grisly end.

3. Denzel Washington's musical number. It's amazing-- like some delicious homemade biscuits and gravy.

When your movie royally screws up one of the two reasons to see the movie you did not succeed, the movie gave me a headache trying to figure out where characters are in relation to each other and what the hell was going on.  During one scene, I could have sworn Ryan Reynolds got out of the car and was on the other end of the complex only to realize that was a totally different character that I saw for a fraction of a second.  I like to know who is shooting who and where.  In this movie characters all get jumbled into a giant cluster of guns firing, people dying and blood flowing.

Director Daniel Espinosa is no Paul Greengrass and could not effectively film in this style, but I would argue that Greengrass should retire it also because the shtick is getting old. John Woo, James Cameron, Steven Spielberg and John McTiernan have all made wonderful action movies and first rate set pieces and the one thing they have in common was they let the action unfold.  In Safe House it didn't unfold as much as it slapped you in the face and screamed in your ear.

If you are someone that HAS to see every Denzel Washington film or if you are looking for an example of the worst utilized girlfriend character in the history of cinema (seriously what was the point of showing Nora Arnezeder throughout the movie if she has no point or impact on the story?) feel free to see Safe House.  It isn’t the worst film in the world or even the worst I have seen in the last week, it is just a movie that squanders the few charms for a style that gets them nowhere.

Posted by Ryan

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  1. It’s a serviceable thriller that should satisfy those late winter cravings from action fans who haven’t seen enough bullets and fists flying onscreen. Nothing special but Reynolds and Washington make it better than it has any right to be. Good review Ryan.


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