Safe House is a sheep in wolf's clothing. Were it not brought to life by actors of the quality of Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Sam Shepard and Brendan Gleeson, one would question the need to bring it to life at all. It looks like a good movie...it sounds like a good movie...but once you get inside...it just isn't. A story you've seen a thousand times, Safe House proceeds safely from one well-worn action thriller check point to the next, filling out the Mad-Libs card as it goes. Car chase? Check. Exotic locale? Check. Neophyte who wants desperately to be involved but realizes he's in way over his head as soon as he is? Check. Potentially untrustworthy higher-ups and "corruption that goes all the way to the top?" Check. That last is an actual quote from this dire screenplay.
That said, I enjoyed the trees, if not the forest. Reynolds plays a young CIA safe house "keeper" who all-of-a-sudden finds himself responsible for a notorious traitor to the United States. A shadowy group wants the traitor dead, and the rest of the cast plays the support team trying to keep them both alive. Young director Daniel Espinosa makes all the right casting choices: Washington brings his considerable gravitas to this trifle; his Tobin Frost is classic Denzel: witty, gruff, with a confidence that overwhelms all those around him. Reynolds is potentially an up-and-coming action star, if he decides to go that way (I've been saying this since Smokin' Aces). Farmiga, Shepard, and Gleeson play CIA muckety-mucks who say things like "I can scramble an extraction team from Libya but that'll take at least 18 hours," and make it seem important, rather than just more action movie situation room babble.
But, unfortunately, babble it is. I knew from the opening moments what to expect from this film, and every expectation was fulfilled. The "surprise" bad guy is so obvious he might as well actually wear a black hat. Washington's and Reynolds' character arcs are at least as obvious if not more so. Gigli would have been enjoyable with this cast, and Safe House is enjoyable. Safe House with a cast worthy of it (for instance, the cast of Monday Night Raw) would be an atrocity.
Safe House: 2 stars out of 5
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