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The first thing you should know about "Safe House" is that it is a very violent movie. Many people in it get shot. Others have their necks broken. A woman in a bathrobe gets shot in the back. Later, two guys stab each other with broken glass. Cars race and crash around, and one even blows up!
Ryan Reynolds does a lot of the hitting and the getting hit. At one point, he head-butts a policeman! He has to, you see, because he plays a guy named Matt Weston who is stuck running the CIA safe house in "Safe House." Except, it's not safe! Denzel Washington is playing a character named Tobin Frost, who used to work at the CIA but now is in trouble. He retired into a life of criminal espionage, and he has an illegal file that has made him a target for some very bad guys. They shoot people like crazy! Tobin is in Cape Town, South Africa, and pretty sure he's going to get killed, so he walks into the U.S. Consulate there. The spooks drag him to the safe house where Ryan Reynolds is bored out of his everlovin' mind. But soon the bad guys break in and perforate the place. Now it's Matt and Tobin on the run in South Africa together. Tobin is still Matt's prisoner, but he's also an expert in interrogation psychology — a really hard guy to lug around when you're trying not to get yourself murdered!
One good part about the movie is that Denzel Washington really likes to work for his money, so while "Safe House" doesn't have many memorable scenes, and basically telegraphs the important double-cross to the audience from 70 minutes away, Denzel still acts like a pro. Meanwhile it's nice to see that Van Wilder Green Lantern can mostly hang with him. He's the rookie trying to keep from getting shot, run over, choked, imprisoned, fired, dumped or disemboweled, and through all that he seems like a decent, resourceful guy. You root for Ryan Reynolds and hope he lives to appear in another "Harold & Kumar" movie sometime.
One bad part about the movie is how almost-smart it is. It is smart enough to use cool spy-movie gadgets, but then has everyone use computers that make bloopy noises whenever a program opens or a file is transferring. (You know, just like you have on your home computer — a sound effect every time you push a button!) It is smart enough to conceal the identity of the group trying to kill everyone, but by midway leaves you with only one plausible option as to who it is, as the plot does a half-hearted zig, and then zags right back, like an overweight smoker attempting flag football. Also, for all the money that Universal spent on making this movie, it's too bad someone forgot to buy a tripod for Daniel Espinosa! He's the Swedish director making his first English-language feature. Every shot jitters, wanders, wavers, tilts, pans, zooms, chatters or shudders, but at least there are so many cuts it's hard to get too attached to any one of them. Pack Dramamine.
In fact, "Safe House" is more fun than most action movies. South Africa is beautiful. The two lead actors have a chemistry that overcomes the clunky plot points around the so-called intelligence agencies. The cat-and-mouse action is exciting. But the movie stumbles when it tries to match the substance, instead of just the style, of the "Bourne" and even recent "Bond" films. It is entertaining! And ... that's about all.
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