Combustible Celluloid
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With: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard, Ruben Blades, Nora Arnezeder, Robert Patrick, Liam Cunningham, Joel Kinnaman, Fares Fares
Written by: David Guggenheim
Directed by: Daniel Espinosa
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence throughout and some language
Running Time: 115
Date: 02/10/2012

Safe House (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Burning Down the 'House'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Back in 1988, Midnight Run proved that the old "odd couple" formula could be adapted to action as well as comedy, and often both.

Usually this pairing consists of a vulgar, vice-ridden slob and a fastidious, nervous type.

But the odd couple in Safe House comes more from life. Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) is seasoned and cynical, and Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is young and optimistic.

When Washington plays a role of this kind (Training Day, etc.) he has no trouble commanding the screen, and proving that he knows it all.

This time, however, his armor may have a hole or two. And Reynolds is more than a match for him.

So it goes that both cynicism and optimism may have a place together in this world, simultaneously.

This interesting theme runs throughout Safe House as the characters cross paths. Frost is a renegade CIA agent that suddenly turns himself into an American Consulate in Cape Town, South Africa.

Weston watches over a nearby "safe house," which is basically a high-tech apartment that is available whenever agents need a place to keep or question a suspect.

Usually nothing happens on Weston's watch. But Frost's arrival provides plenty of action. A gang of thugs blasts its way in, and Weston finds that his only option is to get out, with the crafty Frost in tow.

He must then try to keep Frost in his care until more help can arrive. But he must keep moving. The bad guys are everywhere, and they have a large supply of guns, knives, explosives, and cars to crash. It doesn't help when Frost manages to escape.

All this is terrific, especially when Washington and Reynolds genuinely click into their characters.

They relate on a purely physical level as often as verbal. Swedish-born director Daniel Espinosa visually juxtaposes them with positioning, their clothes, and their environment.

Unfortunately, Espinosa too often resorts to jerky, jumbled fight scenes, which then drag on too long.

Moreover, the script by David Guggenheim also throws in such lazy, typical devices as a mole hidden within the CIA and a secret file that contains all the names of all the rogue agents in the world.

This stuff is all too easy, and the movie wastes time on it.

A more thoughtful movie would have gone deeper, but thankfully, the bulk of Safe House is at least spent on these two fascinating characters.

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