Safe House (Movie) Review

The trailer for the new Bounre Identity sequel will play before Safe House this weekend and that couldn’t be more appropriate.
Daniel Espinosa’s first Hollywood feature desperately wants to be a Bourne movie, ripping of the visual style, tone, structure, and character dynamics of those movies so thoroughly that it’s only one on-the-run superspy away from being an actual sequel.

But it’s not a sequel, it’s a knock off and knock offs are never close to as good as the original. It’s a decent enough crack at two hours of silly politically-charged entertainment with explosions, governmental back stabbings, and a scene-munching Denzel Washington, but nothing particularly special or memorable. There’s just nothing here that hasn’t been done better before over the last 5-10 years. If you’re desperate to see some stuff blow up this weekend you could do a lot worse, but I’d say that by virtue of the fact this movie wasn’t saved for a summer release, we can assume that even the studio wasn’t exactly thrilled with the Xeroxed results.

Denzel stars as Tobin Frost, a former CIA hotshot who left his post and went off the grid to become somewhat of an information terrorist, sharing government secrets ‘round the world for a price. But all good things must come to an end and he gets caught in Cape Town where he’s sent to a secret US safe house for interrogation (aka waterboarding). Ryan Reynolds plays a young whippersnapper agent who has the dull job of watching over the never-used safe house, but winds up with a whole lotta excitement once Denzel enters his world. Within minutes a group of apparent terrorists show up with machine guns to break Denzel free, but Reynolds manages to escape with him as a prisoner. Reynolds starts frantically calling his superiors who work in an all-powerful Pentagon control room.  They encourage the young agent to keep Denzel on a leash, but something seems fishy. Denzel has a bunch of information about corrupt US and British agents in his possession and rather quickly Reynolds doesn’t know to trust his prisoner or his possibly corrupt bosses. Cue gunfights and car chases.

It’s not a bad idea for an action movie and would have seemed pretty fresh and exciting a few short years ago. Sadly, these days this sort of stuff is business as usual for Hollywood espionage thrillers. Everything about this movie feels like Bourne-lite from the hard-to-see shakey cam aesthetic to the hardass CIA bosses looking over their international fuck up from a cold control room like sharply dressed gods. Nothing happens that will come as much of a surprise and if you can’t figure out who the secret villain is within the first 15 minutes, then you’ve either never seen a movie before or you aren’t trying.

Now, admittedly the action is fairly well staged and the crumbling Cape Town setting of busy streets and massive shantytown slums is evocative. You can’t exactly call the movie boring, certainly plenty of stuff happens without many lulls, but it’s all so familiar that it doesn’t have the punch it should. Espinosa stages a series of shaky-cam chases, shoot outs, and fights that all feel physical and fairly realistic without needless CGI enhancement. However, the scenes all feel like variations on sequences that directors like Paul Greengrass already did far better elsewhere. The acting is fairly solid with Reynolds proving to be an acceptable, if not exactly inspiring action lead, Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga, and Sam Shepard take turns at being suspicious in the CIA heavy roles, and Denzel steals the show as the rogue agent (the guy just can’t deliver a bad performance, no matter what the material). David Guggenheim’s script even goes through the motions at a decent clip, delivering just enough twists and explosions amidst the action movie cliches.

There’s nothing overtly wrong with Safe House. The movie definitely delivers on its meager ambitions. The thing just isn’t anything special or anything terrible. This is pure blockbuster mediocrity. Though I suppose when compared to the god-awful blockbuster disasters that get shat onto screens every few months, it works well enough. Safe House is something that I can’t excitedly endorse or tear down. Check out the trailer and you’ll know exactly what you’re getting. No more, no less. If you can’t wait until this summer’s sequel, this is a decent Bourne substitute. However, unless you’re a die hard Bourne fan desperate to barely see things blow up in extreme handheld close ups, there’s no reason to rush out to this movie. It will play just as well when you’re half-heartedly paying attention to it on television in a few months after an unremarkable theatrical run. Safe House can be summed up in a single syllable and that’s “meh.”