Safe House

Ryan Reynolds contemplates leaving South Africa. You may contemplate leaving the theater. Photo courtesy Intrepid Pictures

If you go and check out the newest spy thriller, ‘Safe House’, this weekend, keep your ticket stub handy. Chances are you’re going to develop a kneejerk reaction at some point during the movie to grab it and double check that you hadn’t already seen it before.

This reaction will have two different causes. The first, a somewhat good one, will be because the exciting action to open the movie will feel like it is right out of your favorite flick. But once your honeymoon with the movie ends about half an hour in, you’ll be checking you’re the same stub because it feels like you know every turn the movie is going to take.

The movie, starring Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington, sets its sights on Cape Town, South Africa. Matt Weston (Reynolds) is a CIA “housekeeper”, a full-fledged agent with the responsibility of looking after a covert safe house when it in use. Tobin Frost (Washington) is a former CIA operative that flipped on the agency almost a decade earlier and has been spending the years since selling secrets to the highest bidder. When he receives his latest bread-winning piece on intelligence from an MI-6 agent, Frost soon realizes a team of ruthless killers are hunting for him. Cornered and outnumbered, Frost turns himself in to the local American consulate. But the men hunting Frost aren’t ready to stop their pursuit, and Frost hasn’t given up making a big payday.

Ruining the ambiance of the movie’s first stunning action sequences is the blatant overacting of Reynolds. While the movie needs to sell the point that his character, Weston, is actively seeking a new position, Reynolds plays it to a point where even people lacking an attached spinal cord would get the hint. Whatever happened to the days when he just shut up and showed his killer abs

Safe House

Denzel Washington is so cool he doesn't bother with tedious things like "looking where he's aiming". Photo courtesy Intrepid Pictures


Eventually Reynolds finds his acting niche in the movie as the character balances out, but by that time the movie is already long down the road of utter predictability. If the whole point of embedding a secret villain is to surprise the audience, the movie shouldn’t spend the hour before that moment telegraphing obvious clues as to who he or she is.

As you might guess, ‘Safe House’ is completely guilty of doing just this. In fact, since the plot is so predictable you’ll probably spend the second half of the movie hoping it’s all a big set up to throw you into an even bigger twist. But it isn’t, and when the movie strays away from showing you some pretty cool action sequences, it’s drudging on in slow dialogue as it limps to its transparent (and rather cheesy) conclusion.

The one thing the movie does do extremely well is killing people when you least expect it. I can almost guarantee at some point during the movie you will jump in your seat, especially if you see it on the big screen. One minute someone will be talking and the next they’ll have a bullet in the center of their head. But even with this small victory in hand, the movie doesn’t avoid the urge of giving you the predictable killings, as well. The motion picture isn’t a cliché horror film, but you still find yourself begging characters not to go here and there because you know they’re about to die.

As a full body of work, ‘Safe House’ is sufficiently entertaining. Its real problem is trying to take on the espionage thriller genre. In such a crowded group, for a movie to be really successful it has to have the audience walk away with something no other movie before it in the genre has. Suffice it to say, ‘Safe House’ cannot say it accomplishes this.

All in all, ‘Safe House’ is a decent enough action flick to warrant the standard price of admission. There aren’t any goofy 3D effects or eye-rolling dialogue that tries to pander to the crowd. But if you’re looking for a smart, cerebral thriller in the style of the Bourne trilogy, you are going to walk away disappointed. While the movie starts out attempting to be smart, it quickly dumbs itself down in an effort to add in more fight scenes and car chases. This is where ‘Safe House’ fails to stand out from the crowd and designates itself as “forgettable”. FINAL GRADE: B-

Follow Bryan Lienesch on Twitter @bclienesch!

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