Monday, February 13, 2012

Safe House

SAFE HOUSE: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds (114 min.)

The screenplay for Safe House must have been written one day when there was a fire sale at the spy-thriller division of the cliché company. Here is a movie with not one single new idea, not even in its direction. Now, it isn’t just the worst movie or anything, but I challenge anyone to find an original thought. Or how about an original shot or a fresh look? Find me something, anything, that doesn’t make this film look and seem as lazy as I know it is. If this was a picture without Denzel Washington, relying solely on Ryan Reynolds to carry the action, there would be little hope at all.

Reynolds plays Matt Weston, the eager young CIA agent looking to get his big break. But for the time being he paces anxiously around a safe house in Cape Town, South Africa, burning through lonely hours dreaming of being a real agent. You know this character, believe me. One afternoon Matt gets a call from headquarters in Langley (seen numerous times in the swooping overhead shot we all recognize) informing him he will have a house guest. It is one Tobin Frost (Washington), a rogue CIA agent who is marked as a traitor and has been on the run for almost a decade. So imagine everyone’s surprise when Frost turns himself in to the American Consulate in South Africa. The decision is made to get Frost to the safe house immediately because he might have some bad dudes after him.

From here we get the obligatory bureaucratic speeches from the “command center” back at Langley, where three central characters toss around plot details and exposition on everything without much regard for originality or creative delivery. Frost “tested off the charts” before he “went rogue.” Weston “went to Yale,” and “was picked out of Yale Law School.” Of course he was. I imagined, during these scenes back at Langley, the film being muted and filling in the dialogue myself. I’ll bet I could mute these scenes, speak for the characters, and start the sound back up having not missed one “important” element of the story. What makes this whole side story that much more offensive is the fact these three characters are played by great talent. Sam Shepard is the ambiguous head of the CIA, Vera Farmiga is This Agent Over Here, and Brendan Gleeson is That Agent Over There. Three immensely talented actors shoveling through this thankless dialogue? Say it ain’t so.

Anyways, back to Cape Town where the safe house has been attacked and the team responsible for bringing Frost in is getting mowed down left and right. Weston has to think fast, so he gets Frost out of the safe house and into the trunk of a car while he flees the baddies in a car chase without much originality. And you know the drill from here. Weston sees this as his big break as he tries to get Frost secured at another safe house with the nameless baddies on his tail and Frost getting into his head. We also need to figure out who the traitor is who gave away Frost’s location; but anyone who’s been at least awake so far knows who the turncoat is because, well, it couldn’t be anyone else.

The big attraction here is Denzel Washington as the not-so-bad villain (you have to be able to discern this much from the previews) running circles around Ryan Reynolds’ Matt. But Denzel seems a little bored with his character, like he is too good for this material. And he is. I don’t really have anything against Ryan Reynolds, but I don’t think he has very much as an actor. As Weston, Reynolds spends most of his time fighting back tears it seems, or thinking really hard about things, or trying to look as tough as possible. Whatever he is trying to convey it doesn’t really work. Everyone is just playing a part in a plot-driven thriller without putting any real energy towards their characters’ story.

I grew increasingly less interested in Safe House as the story plodded along to the obvious conclusion. What was the motivation for this film? It must be a quick money grab for everyone. Director Daniel Espinosa saturates the screen with color and grit and fast-moving cameras, I almost don’t believe Tony Scott wasn’t involved in this film somewhere along the way. Everything here is paint by numbers; and it doesn’t matter how rich and deep the colors are if the picture is the same thing you’ve seen a hundred times before in better films.