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Friday, Feb. 10, 2012

Safe House

Denzel's Cool in a Not-so-Hot Film

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Denzel Washington is the reason to watch Safe House, an otherwise-by-numbers Hollywood action thriller. Washington plays Tobin Frost, a CIA agent who went rogue years ago as an international broker in secrets. His latest multi-million dollar scheme, the purchase of a microchip of sensitive data from a disgruntled MI6 agent in Cape Town, goes seriously awry when a mysterious band of henchmen try to kill him and the CIA dispatch an interrogation squad to wring the information from him—literally, as in water boarding during questioning. True to his name, Frost rises from his session cool as a night in October, wearing the smile of a Sphinx. He can handle himself.

Washington's easily overshadowed co-star, Ryan Reynolds, plays Matt Weston, the CIA rookie in charge of the agency's Cape Town safe house where the interrogators bring Frost. It had been an uneventful posting as Weston wiled away the days with an iPod plugged into his ear, bouncing a rubber ball off the wall. He had plenty of time to fall in love with a comely French student (a subplot glued onto the story for the occasional woman dragged to Safe House by her boyfriend). Aggressively eager for more challenging assignments, Weston is like the intern who thinks he's ready to become vice president. When the henchmen shoot their way into the safe house and Weston and Frost flee out the back way into crowded Cape Town, the rookie is handed his chance: prove your mettle or die.


During some early scenes the plot disappears into the confused blur of fast-cut carnage; soon enough come the no-risk computer enhanced car chases with plenty of smash-ups on the Cape Town freeways and streets. The South African city could be a fascinating backdrop for an action picture, but the relentless power-jog, seen-it-better-in-Bourne pace affords little opportunity to see the sights.


As the only character with dimension, Frost is a brilliant psychological chess player—and manipulator. He always sees beyond the next several moves on the deadly game board and begins to mess with Weston's mind. Speaking of the agency, he smiles as he tells the rookie: "They'll hang you out to dry." Aside from death and destruction, the feeble plot hinges on whether Frost is right.