Review by Bob Ignizio
SAFE HOUSE is the latest BOURNE wannabe to grace movie screens with its grainy, gritty photography, drab color scheme, annoying rapid fire edits, and action scenes shot by someone having a seizure. The plot concerns Denzel Washington as rogue CIA agent Tobin Frost. Frost has a data chip containing information on corrupt intelligence agents from all over the world, including some in his own agency, and he plans to profit from it. Those plans get sidetracked when Frost's partner is killed after the two meet up in South Africa, forcing Frost to seek refuge at the American consulate.
The CIA has been wanting to get their hands on Frost for some time, and they send him to a nearby safe house for interrogation. Safe house “keeper”Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) has been looking for a way to kickstart his stalled career, and this is the first excitement he's seen in the 12 months he's been at his post outside of a romance with French doctor Ana (Nora Arnezeder). Once the CIA interrogation team shows up, Weston gets pushed aside once again. That is, until the bad guys who killed Frost's partner show up and kill the interrogation team, leaving Weston as the only man who can bring Frost in, provided he can keep himself and his prisoner alive that long.
The bad guys knew where Frost was because, of course, there's a mole in the agency. The “Law of Conservation of Characters” tells us that has to be either Weston's boss Barlow (Brendan Gleeson) or Catherine (Vera Farmiga), another suspicious-acting CIA official.
Weston and Frost go on the run, get pursued, and general mayhem and action ensues. At least I think that's what happens; it's hard to be sure with the lousy camerawork and incomprehensible editing. Strictly going by what's on the screen, everyone might just as easily have been playing hopscotch or having tea while someone tossed a running movie camera around. But since there are dead bodies on the ground and characters have wounds once the camera finally settles down, I'll stick with the hypothesis that some kind of action sequences were being staged.
Does anyone remember the last time Denzel Washington actually gave a real acting performance instead of just phoning in yet another variation of his “cocky and cool” routine? Yeah, me neither. Granted, it works for him most of the time, but here it's just one more thing to add to the overall vibe of lazy, by-the-numbers mediocrity. Co-star Reynolds adds nothing to the proceedings, either, giving us his umpteenth take on the “underachieving smart ass who has to rise to the occasion” role he almost always plays. Even the usually reliable Gleeson and Farmiga seem unable to muster up much enthusiasm for their underwritten characters.
As uninspired as David Guggenheim's script and the half-ass performances are, I think the lion's share of the blame has to go to director Daniel Espinosa. On paper this should be at least a passable “B” action flick, but what's on the screen is ugly, slapdash, and boring. If Washington is going to insist on making these kind of high concept action flicks, he should stick with directors like his frequent collaborator Tony Scott who know how to take a so-so script and turn it into a film that's at least offers some genuine excitement, and who can give that film an interesting visual style without making it impossible to follow. 1 out of 4 stars.