HST… Film Review: Safe House

Safe_HouseLauren: Maybe it’s just me, but Safe House is possibly the worst title for this film. We’re talking Alanis Morissette levels of irony; at least upon first glance, anyway. After all, before long it is easy to lose track of the meaning of “safe as houses” as Denzel Washington brings down a heap of pain on Ryan Reynolds and the US government.

But like I said, this is first glance. For the characters within the film the title is worthy of a chuckle for sure, but when you break it down Safe House is actually just that, safe. There are no surprises as the plot progresses, once again there is a story involving the underbelly of our government, and best of all, there are a whole heck of a lot of comparisons to The Bourne Series in the action sequences (a comparison probably not helped by the fact that a trailer for The Bourne Legacy played before my screening).

Zac: Agreed, the film doesn’t do a whole lot new when it comes to plot. The film in fact harkens back to the action movies of old, setting up Denzel Washington as the ultimate bad ass at every turn during the first act. “That’s Tobin Frost;” “No way, Tobin Frost;” “He is the most dangerous man on the face of the Earth, and Mars;” these are a sampling, more or less, of lines you might have heard uttered in the film describing Denzel. We get it; he is awesome. Reynolds on the other hand is sold as “less than” even though he is a trained CIA operative and, obviously, he is going to prove he is more than his superiors think he’s worth by the end of the film.

Luckily, the familiarity of the material doesn’t ruin the film, it just make things uninspired. In fact, when the film isn’t in an action scene it is rather dull, and at times slow. Even with both stars doing fine work and being more than likable, nothing was able to suck me into the story more than simply wanting the next action scenes; which are really good.

Lauren: Ryan Reynolds is less than? Are we looking at the same beautifully sculpted male specimen? Ok, so at the start he is a little green because instead of acting like a glorified field agent living the life of action and adventure, he has spent the last year staring at walls as he acts as Housekeeper. So mistakes are to be had because he is a noob, but I think he does a great job of leveling up rather quickly.

Zac: I don’t think Reynolds is less than, they just sold his character short is all I meant.

Lauren: Oh ok, you’re forgiven.  So maybe I was a little more willing to follow Reynolds around during the non-action bits, because it is Reynolds, and he is dreamy, and there was a slight romance story (that was pointless to a large degree), but I can’t deny the appeal of the action sequences. No matter where they are staged, each one is pretty much as exciting as the last, whether it is a quick spat in a bathroom stall that lasts about two seconds, a close quarter battle in a moving car, or just a good all out punch fest.  As the males beat each other down, even I got physically tired as I watched them stagger around from the pain and lack of energy as they did what they could to be the one left standing in the end.  Point is, each and every one of these scenes could be accompanied by the audio track of the little boy from The Incredibles belted out “that was totally wicked!” and I could not agree more, little tricycle boy. They were totally wicked.

Zac: The action scene that stood out the most for me was the extended car chase early on where Reynolds is escaping the first safe house, yes there is more than one (not so safe), that might have a smidge too much shaky camera, but keeps the intensity high and the surprises coming.  The shaky camera, quick editing style and poor lighting are the biggest determents as a whole to the action scenes; especially when Denzel is involved.  Most of Reynolds action beats are well lit and easy to follow, but you could see them cut the corners when Denzel was supposed to throw down.

Speaking of Denzel, as much as I like the guy, I wish he would do something different for a change.  People come out to his movies because they love “Denzel,” but I wish the guy wasn’t afraid to take some chances.  Tobin Frost is barely a “bad guy” here, and nothing about the character is terribly original for him or similar “bad asses” in other films.  Come on Denzel!

Lauren: That’s just silly; he drove trains in one of his last movies. That’s screams new dimension to the BA Denzel.  Eh heh heh… But I see what you’re getting at. Frost definitely wasn’t that complex, but I still loved seeing him mentally attack some of the other characters, like when he was trying to get into the head of Reynolds in the first safe house. Then again, for a man who was supposed to be off the charts in psychological warfare, he sure didn’t get to play that up. Perhaps that was what all the mumbling was about. Build up the other person’s anger because they can’t hear a word that he is saying.  Yeah, I’m going to go with that.

Zac: All the little head game stuff made me chuckle from time to time, but it seemed to just be trying so hard to be clever and cool, and if Denzel wasn’t the one spouting the lines I don’t know if it really works.  You could apply that last statement to almost the entire film as a whole, actually; if the top notch cast isn’t there, this film doesn’t resonate at all.  Sure director Daniel Espinosa brought something to the action, but I don’t think general audiences would be as kind as I think they are going to be towards this film if it wasn’t for the first rate actors. The film isn’t as sharp and original as I think it thinks it is.

Lauren: Agreed, originality doesn’t really imply the ability to read surprises from a mile away, which is exactly what this film allows us to do.  In actuality I was rather satisfied for a little while that the story wasn’t trying to be too complex, but it should not read like it was based on a “how to” guide for creating a film of this genre. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the “twists” and “turns” to this one, that’s for sure, which unfortunately may be because of the message of the film. At least I think there was one. Don’t trust the government, right? People do bad things for good reasons? Current action films must end in a certain way? (See Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol for another example that made me angry grumble).

Zac: I think they had the potential for a rather interesting ending, they had an opportunity to go dark, but what we end up getting is one that hits every note you expect it to be. (Sigh)

All in all, Safe House‘s action is great, but it takes more than that to be a great action movie. Everything is serviceable, the actors are all as good as you expect them to be, and Denzel does Denzel. If that is what you are looking for then I am sure you will enjoy yourself in the theater, I had a good time. But, if you ask for a little something more than paint by numbers cinema you will find plenty to pull apart in Safe House, and that’s a shame because it could have actually been a great action movie.

Zac: C
Lauren: C+   

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