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Guest Review: ‘Safe House’

Espinosa’s Hollywood Directoral Debut May Have Locked Too Many Of It’s Own Doors

Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds CIA-it-up in

Photo by KPBS Staff

Above: Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds CIA-it-up in "Safe House".

Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington team up in "Safe House" (opening February 10th throughout San Diego) for a fast-paced action-thriller directed by Sweden's Daniel Espinosa.

There should be a sign twirler in front of every showing of “Safe House”. Call it an open house for the sub-par model action thriller, under house arrest, behind locked doors or whatever you will, but “Safe House” is snug in its concoction of rudimentary violence as a fast-action thriller.

Directed by Swedish rookie, Daniel Espinosa, “Safe House” follows Matt Weston, (Ryan Reynolds) a rookie CIA agent begging for field experience, through one of those totally-out-of-place-24-hour-days around Cape Town, South Africa. When legendary rogue agent Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) is brought into Weston’s “safe house” to be monitored and questioned, Weston must guard his “guest” from international goons by any means necessary to prove his worth and loyalty to the government agency.

Here's the trailer.

Much like the film’s title, the movie never ventures far from the safety of it’s home. But rather than start with the walls that kept the movie in, let's look to see where this movie was trying to go.

The movie takes place in Cape Town, South Africa, a solid choice for the edgy action-thriller this movie was attempting to create. Much like “Training Day,” another Denzel thriller (uncanny in its similarity to this premise come to think of it…), "Safe House" takes the audience on a one day tour through the high-end streets and poverty-stricken boroughs of the city. The director and cinematographers do a commendable job at navigating and exploring the city. And although the pacing for this exploration may have been off, it was nice for a film of this genre to explore a city that wasn’t Rio de Janeiro, Los Angeles, New York, or Moscow.

In terms of holding the lead role, I think Reynolds should be acknowledged. While it may not have been anything close to a breakout role or tour-de-force, I think his performance was basic to what the character needed. But ultimately, that’s the problem. He didn’t really go anywhere, much like Denzel. It was a role we’ve seen him in before.

It also must, absolutely must, be noted that this movie carried a lot of Bourne-ish DNA. I mean it wouldn’t be too far to guess that this guy was Jason Bourne on his first glamour assignment. But all of the collections of quick 2-second takes, the insta-kills, the bass-loaded, industrial synth music -- all carried a lot of déjà-Bourne with it.

But unlike Bourne, much of this film’s writing and script was deflated and clumsy. In many of it’s attempts to be witty and humorous, the film walks itself into a screen door and then looks around to see if anyone is laughing. The film also attempts to go deep, even though deep for them was like a four-year-old jumping into the 3-foot shallow end -- all the adults are at the other end of the pool.

Ultimately, in terms of action and violence, “Safe House” (rated R for strong violence throughout and some language) delivers. But don’t expect much beyond clichés and overused one-liners. I don’t know if the film could have taken chances even if it wanted to. I think like Reynold’s character, it bolted itself into a safe zone trying to protect itself and leaving no chance for an escape.

Companion Viewing: “Training Day” (2001), “The Bourne Identity” (2002), “District 9” (2009)

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