*** (3 Stars)
Johannesburg, South Africa. For the past 12 months, low-level CIA operative Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) has been tasked with watching over a safe house -- i.e., a place to bring prisoners or witnesses to keep them out of danger. A bored and frustrated Matt throws a ball at the wall, complaining to his superiors about the lack of action. Enter the agency'd most notorious traitor, Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), who abruptly turns himself in and lands in the interrogation room. Shortly thereafter, the house comes under siege and the two are ordered to go "off the grid." It’s a pulse-pounding opening act.
It doesn't take long for Washington and Reynolds to press each other's psychological buttons. The two-time Oscar winner, you see, plays one of those master manipulators who growls, "I'm already in your head!" But Reynolds' Yale-educated Weston tries his best to stay in command. Washington is an expert at nailing these grizzled, morally compromised authority figures (see: Training Day), yet he never once lapses into punchline-dropping caricature. Reynolds, meanwhile, finally shakes free of his smug comedy tics (see: Green Lantern, The Change Up) and actually looks and acts like a believable leading man. Together, the two share a nice fire-and-ice chemistry.
That is, when they're actually sparring. Far too often, their intense cat-and-mouse games become interrupted by an assault of bullet sprays and dizzy car chases. The action scenes are well choreographed, though there's a 24/Bourne franchise familiarity about them. More problematic, the two spend nearly 30 minutes separated from each other after Washington -- um, spoiler alert --shakes free of Reynolds' clutches. (Reynolds uses this time to see his pretty French girlfriend. Focus, dude!)
Still, the movie -- which features a distinctive grainy aesthetic -- recovers just in time for the adrenalized home stretch. When Reynolds gets beaten to a bloody pulp and languishes on a filthy wood floor, extreme close ups allow moviegoers to see the tears in his weary eyes and drops of blood in his two-day stubble. Washington goes out with more of a whimper, but no matter: Safe House is a safe bet (sorry, had to do it!) for bracing entertainment.
- Ryan Reynolds
- Denzel Washington