See Eye, Eh

Safe House plays familiar spy games

Director Daniel Espinosa’s Safe House is a shaky-camera action orgy that has as much use for its female characters as it does for a tripod. It’s the sort of generic, bro-tastic movie that Denzel Washington has been sleepwalking through since way before Liam Neeson weaseled in on that game. As much as it resembles those horrifyingly sexist Dr. Pepper 10 commercials with its “no ladies allowed” machismo, Safe House doesn’t really mean any harm. All it wants to provide is gladiatorial entertainment and to maybe make us feel just a little bit worse about our government.

Ryan Reynolds plays Matt Weston, a rookie C.I.A. agent assigned the espionage equivalent of latrine duty. He’s wasting away in South Africa guarding a never-used haven for spies. Just as he’s bemoaning a lack of action, in walks Tobin Frost (Washington), a former spy who is now all kinds of naughty. Frost is in possession of bad guy catnip in the form of a file with dirt on agents in organizations around the world. As is to be expected, things get ugly when they come a-knockin’ on Weston’s door.

Before long, Weston and Frost are on the move together, with the elder constantly playing mind games with the noob. Meanwhile, back in Langley, Catherine Linklater (Vera Farmiga) and David Barlow (Brandan Gleeson) fail miserably at trying to provide guidance, a fact compounded by an apparent rat within the covert agency. Before you can say “it’s just a flesh wound,” here come the obligatory car chases, Bourne Identity-esque fight sequences and a secret reveal that’s not particularly secret and in no way revealing.

Writer David Guggenheim proves once more that characters can drown in the shallow end, as Reynolds is the stale action staple that is “the boy scout” and Frost is the “bad guy who isn’t such a bad guy.” More troubling is what happens to the ladies, with the talented Farmiga given slightly more to do than a hanger in the costume department and Weston’s girlfriend (Nora Arnezeder) allowed only to sniffle and pose.

Although Espinosa is clearly doing his Tony Scott impression, with the grainy visuals and disorienting editing, the action is astoundingly kinetic. The fisticuffs and automobile encounters are the meat in this cinematic burger, and even if the characterization condiments are weak sauce, the main ingredient is juicy. To pay the largely uninspired script a baby compliment, the lack of terrorist bad guys is refreshing, even if the end result is a message that seems to suggest every member of the C.I.A. is a bastard-coated bastard to some degree.

Many critics have been beating up on Safe House for its simplistic brawn, which is like criticizing the beach for being sandy. This is brainless diversionary fare that is judged on a sliding scale of “did I have a good time and feel appropriately thrilled and chilled.” Never boring and often fun, this dumb ole dog may not have new tricks, but it’s still fun to play with and worth a scratch behind its ears.

Grade = C+

posted at 01:07 am
on Monday, February 13th, 2012

COMMENTS

(We're testing Disqus commenting (finally!); please let us know if you have trouble.)

comments powered by Disqus

 

« Previous Page


Happy, Little Clouded

Actual human beings made The Tale of Princess Kaguya, and you can tell. A water-colored rebuke of the robots who computer-generate most modern animation, every luscious scene is hand-crafted and...

more »


No Big Bang

In 1965, Stephen Hawking wrote his first ground-breaking thesis and wed Jane Wilde. His paper argued that if a star can collapse inwards to form a singularity, then a singularity can explode back...

more »


Leni Riefen-stalling

On the one hand, any film subtitled “Part 1” is a naked cash grab. On the other hand, shut up and take my money, Hunger Games. Mockingjay Part 1, like the rest of the franchise, is billed as “Young...

more »


Oopsie Genius

I know two things for sure: (1) Birdman aims to relentlessly drive home one singular point, one thoroughly expressed thesis about life and art. (2) It does not succeed. You would think that would...

more »


The Burden of Actual Christianity

Most praise for writer/director Jesse Moss’s documentary, The Overnighters, has rightly been focused on its Steinbeckian nature and explosive revelations about struggling workers in North Dakota....

more »







Advanced Search