Safe House: Still-Bourne Identity (Movie Review)

If Michael Bay directed Safe House, a fast-paced, spies-on-the-run thriller, it could have been this generations The Rock.  With novice director Daniel Espinosa at the helm, it comes across as a Jason Bourne meets Training Day mish-mash that falls apart in the end and will wash from your memory soon after seeing it.  A better name for it would be The Chalk.

Not that Espinosa did a horrible job—he squeezed a solid performance from Ryan Reynolds as unproven CIA agent Matt Weston and let Denzel Washington ooze his badass charisma as the treasonous Tobin Frost. Weston is essentially the watchman for a seldom-used safe house in Cape Town, South Africa, his job to “stare at four walls all day.”  His girlfriend is smoking hot and never wants to let him get out of bed, but his thankless government job always comes first.  He reminded me of Stanley “Chemical Super Freak” Goodspeed, but without the nervous Nic ticks.  Weston tells his boss he wants more responsibility and his girlfriend he’d see her later that night, so you know this is not going to be his day.  He receives a surprise “guest” shortly after, the infamous secret-selling Frost, who wrote the CIA’s book on how to act like Jack Bauer or something like that.  He turned himself into the American consulate because some assassins are after the intel he’s carrying in his under his skin.  Before interrogator Robert Patrick can properly torture Frost, who never loses his cool, a hit squad raids the not-so-safe house and kills almost everyone.  That’s hard enough to do in Call of Duty, but here the bad guys make it look laughably easy.

Reynolds and Washington are now on the run and the chase is on.  Along the way they fight, they quip, they become Best Frenemies Forever.  What else did you expect?  It was inspired casting, and the movie is quite engaging whenever the two are onscreen together.  The South African set pieces were a nice change of scenery from the usual murky European metropolises or overcrowded Hong Kong market place commonly associated with international intrigue.  But then there’s the constant use of shaky cam, most migraine-inducing during the otherwise watchable car chases.  Instead of creating his own visual style, it seems Espinosa relied too much on the frenetic, en vogue action formula.  Step One: Point camera at action.  Step Two: Perform “The Time Warp” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  At least Bay shows some finesse at going over-the-top and knows when his plot is razor thin, don’t lay on the drama so thick— have fun!  Reynolds needs more serious turns, but his character didn’t seem to be having any fun at all, while Washington was all smiles.  Neither disappoints in the action department.

The script, however, does.  Obviously, someone on the inside is feeding info to the baddies, who always seem to be right on the agents’ asses.  For a spy movie, it’s not the best kept secret.  And the secrets on that microchip could have been found by Julian Assange, so even that didn’t really matter.  I’d spend more time nitpicking, but movie is worth seeing, either at a matinee or on Blu-ray.  Sure, it could have been great with a little more flair and a few more rewrites, but it’s still a hell of a lot better than Haywire.



3 Responses to “Safe House: Still-Bourne Identity (Movie Review)”

  1. Gerard Iribe

    “”At least Bay shows some finesse at going over-the-top and knows when his plot is razor thin, don’t lay on the drama so thick””

    I stopped reading after this.


  2. Brian White

    I think I would have gave this a 3.5
    I liked it, but didn’t love it like I did WOMAN IN BLACK, although two completely separate movies…LOL
    I did not mind the shaky cam thing. Gerard and I were talking about this today. But you are right…it was very Bourne like. But not in a bad way at all.
    Denzel was excellent as he always is and I was actually impressed with Reynolds in this flick.
    I guess the Haywire comparison is legit. I agree…MUCH BETTER FLICK and it was all explained, it’s just nothing we haven’t seen before. But that’s why Hollywood does remakes right?
    AICN said it best IMO today when they said Denzel kicks a$$, but the movie just star safe. Accurate description IMO.

  3. Gerard Iribe

    I wouldn’t call Daniel Espinosa a novice. He’s directed 3 features in Sweden. Here’s a trailer “Easy Money” which looks pretty damn cool: