Smoke and Mirrors: An unrealistic plot and shallow dialogue sends Safe House the way of countless failed CIA semi-thrillers.
Thursday, February 9, 2012
Oo oo oo, it’s CIA action porn when Safe House finally gets going, all mysterious black SUVs and “kill the surveillance cameras” and stoic badassery all around. It’s sorta exciting, apparently, for Ryan Reynolds’ Matt Weston, the “housekeeper” at a safe house in South Africa that, it seems, the Company isn’t even supposed to have there. Because it means he finally gets to do something CIA-ish! Mostly he’s just been lying on the beach with his gorgeous French girlfriend, we’re told.
Now he gets to run around with Denzel Washington! Because Denzel is “notorious traitor” and “rogue CIA agent” Tobin Frost – the sort of name people only have in movies – who was brought in to the safe house by not-rogue, untraitorous CIA agents. Frost walked right up to the American consulate in Cape Town rather than continuing to run away from the bad guys who were chasing him, for reasons unknown from the first and never adequately explained later. And then, when the local CIA brings him to the safe house, the bad guys bust in to get Frost. Never fear: Frost and Weston escape and go on the run. Weston thinks he has Frost in custody, but…
Ack. Never mind. It doesn’t matter. All the “intrigue” and obfuscation is just a way for newbie screenwriter David Guggenheim to hide the fact that he’s got nothing to say that we haven’t seen before – and, indeed, that he can’t even be bothered to say better things that we’ve seen before than he does. I mean, he’s got Frost going all Hannibal Lecter-esque and warning Weston that he’s “already in [Weston’s] head,” which made me rub my hands together anticipating some good mindfuckery. But it never comes. Frost’s mysterious ookiness – which the film would desperately like you to be captivated by – is basically limited to that one line, and not by anything he actually does to get into Weston’s head, or to mess with Weston. Or with us.
Frost had previously outmanned the waterboarding the CIA guys put him through in the safe house, which I can only interpret as a bizarre defense of this form of torture by dint of how things later transpire. (Also: Weston’s “Is this legal?” is absolutely adorable. If he’s really so naive as to imagine that the CIA, in the 21st century, behaves as if it is bound by law automatically removes him from any realm in which he is dramatically interesting as a character.) But even that’s not worth getting my liberal dander up about, because Safe House is such a copout in every way. The MacGuffin that Frost carries and that the bad guys are after has the potential to say something authentic about how international relations are conducted these days, as well as about the police state we seem to be falling into, but that is completely squandered. (The film’s tagline, “No one is safe,” bears no relation to the content of this film. None at all. Would that it did.) None of it is as brave or even as captivating as it appears to think it is, and the film has nowhere near the conscience it would like you to think it has by the time it’s done throwing some car chases and showers of broken glass at you.
But wait! Someone at Langley is a traitor! Could it be Vera Farmiga? Or Brendan Gleeson? (P.S.: It almost doesn’t even matter.)
Even the attempts to cover up the utter vapidness of the film fall short of distinguishing themselves. Safe House looks and feels like a thousand other similar movies, and does nothing but tread water in the genre. It’s an inauspicious transition to Hollywood for Swedish director Daniel Espinosa… although, who knows: Maybe his Swedish stuff isn’t very distinctive either. His last film, Snabba Cash (or, in English, Easy Money, is described as a “three-tiered story centered around drugs and organized crime.” Not exactly groundbreaking either, from the sound of it.
Cape Town looks nice, though. The only winner here is the South African tourism board, who can probably start setting up a Safe House tour now.
SAFE HOUSE (1½) • Directed by Daniel Espinosa •Starring Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Robert Patrick • Rated R •115 min •At Century Cinemas Del Monte, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas, Lighthouse Cinemas.