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Safe House Review

Safe House fulfills its popcorn flick intentions, but metaphorically brings to mind the image of a bobble-head: a bloated brain supported by little else, springing uncontrollably in different directions. When the action ramps up, Safe House is at its best, providing ample energy, a plethora of gunplay and a number of gritty combat sequences. When pausing to forward the plot, spew exposition or focus on perfunctory romances, it grinds to a halt. Safe House would be better viewed with a remote equipped with a fast forward button nearby. Thankfully, the sequences with action outnumber those without, so Safe House comes out on top based on percentages alone. What makes it slip just out of the realm of solid praise is that it really fails as a tense, psychological duel of wits. I mean, you have the one of the coolest actors working today in Denzel Washington trying to escape his confines with only a lowly safe-house guard (Ryan Reynolds) in his way—use it. The trailers and radio ads prominently feature the line “I’m already in your head,” but the movie itself offers little in the way of subtle manipulation or mind games. All we get are a few scenes in which Washington’s Tobin Frost intimidates the crap out of the inexperienced operative and ominously warns that the CIA will screw him one day. Now that I’ve kicked this movie while it’s down, let me tell you what it does very well: bloodshed. Ample high-octane set pieces do not always translate directly to a solid film (“Transformers” springs to mind)—they have to bring something to the table. Safe House earns its "R" rating with sometimes uncomfortably realistic shootouts, brutal interrogations and wonderfully choreographed (but wince-inducing) hand-to-hand combat sequences. If you think that John McClane looks rough at the end of a “Die Hard” flick, wait until you see how Reynolds looks when the credits roll. Refreshingly, this is not the kind of movie in which a character is shot, grits his teeth a little bit, holds his wound and then 10 minutes later appears to have forgotten about it. When somebody gets stabbed, they writhe on the floor in pain; when somebody gets shot they are not likely getting back up. There are also a handful of lengthy chase sequences through the streets of Cape Town, a soccer stadium and the slums of Langa, all of which deliver. They are easy to follow, high-energy and far more real-world than we’re normally accustomed to in a Hollywood car chase. In all of these sequences (automotive or otherwise) we have Reynolds front and center. Safe House is really a Ryan Reynolds movie masquerading as a Denzel Washington film, though that is not to say Washington is relegated to a just supporting role; it is simply more focussed on our "in way over his head" rookie than the lethal pro. Reynolds is the surprise here, not only holding his own against the veteran, but also delivering his best mainstream performance to date (there is not a hint of his wise-cracking The Green Lantern or Deadpool characters to be found here). Curiously, Washington delivers few one-liners, and though he oozed charisma through his presence alone, I would have liked to have seen a little more sizzle, one more duty that lands on the script, which just offers nothing in the way of interesting dialogue, insights into the mind of a killer or even a brisk pace for that matter. As a movie to pop in the DVD player, however (one that you can tune out the downtimes between action set pieces), it delivers and offers one of the rarer instances for Washington to do his bad guy thing—a welcome sight.  


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