MOVIE: **1/2 (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5)
BY KEVIN CARR
Like most of America, I like Denzel Washington as an actor. It’s for this reason why I am always surprised to be reminded about how middling his movies perform at the box office. While he can usually carry a film to a strong opening, his movies have never broken $200 million to make a modern blockbuster, and only a handful have even cracked $100 million.
This February, “Safe House” shocked a lot of people (me, included) with its incredible box office returns. It was the second film of 2012 to reach $100 million, hot on the heels of the dreadful “The Vow.” I attribute a lot of this success to Washington’s power as a movie star. And to be honest, he’s what drove the film, not Ryan Reynolds.
The story follows CIA agent Matt Weston (Reynolds), who is in charge of a safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. One morning, he receives a “package,” which is rogue agent Tobin Frost (Washington), a man who has left the agency and sells state secrets to the highest bidder. Unexpectedly, a strike team attacks the safe house, sending Weston on the run, desperately attempting to keep Frost in his custody.
This isn’t the first time that Denzel Washington has played a bad guy. He won an Oscar for doing so in “Training Day,” and his role in 2007’s “American Gangster” also turned some heads. In fact, Washington seems to do best playing the darker character. I’m not sure why that’s the case. Maybe it’s because he’s such a likeable figure that you can’t help but root for him no matter how bad he is on screen.
There might have been a decent thriller in “Safe House” back during the script stage, but all sense of character, plot and story got perverted. Yeah, there’s plenty of car chases and some spectacular explosions, but good luck being able to see them in the overly grainy and palsied cinematography.
As convoluted as the plot is, there are no surprises at all. Even Washington, who is a commanding and good actor, can’t deliver his lines enough to make sense or evoke any empathy. It’s a flashy film, but in the end, “Safe House” is a dull, lifeless, noisy bore.
Still, as an action film, “Safe House” will do in a pinch. Director Daniel Espinosa has a serious case of Tony Scott envy, much the same way that Peter Berg suffers from severe Michael Bay envy. In this sense, “Safe House” is a bit of a frenetic mess, moving the camera too much that any heightened sense of excitement becomes mundane in the process.
Reynolds works as the wet-behind-the-ears CIA newbie. Unfortunately, he’s saddled with a painfully cliche sidestory with a girlfriend who doesn’t know what he does for a living. This element wouldn’t be so bad if his girlfriend isn’t a typical model-turned-actress, leggy blonde with zilch in the personality department. Aside from making the audience worry about her so the bad guys don’t kill such a pretty girl, she’s vacuous, playing a brilliant oncologist who in reality can barely put three words together to form a sentence.
Like Mark Wahlberg’s “Contraband,” it’s a movie that can entertain for an afternoon and then be completely forgotten until you stumble onto it again while flipping channels years later.
Like many of Universal’s major Blu-ray releases, “Safe House” includes Universal’s Second Screen, which allows the user to activate bonus content from their iPad or computer using the pocketBLU app. There’s also embedded content throughout the film via U-Control. Finally, exclusive to the Blu-ray is Ultraviolet, which allows your movie to be accessed via cloud technology. Standard Digital Copy is also available.
Featurettes include “Making Safe House,” “Hand-to-Hand Action,” “Shooting the Safe House Attack,” “Building the Rooftop Chase,” “Behind the Action,” “Inside the CIA” and “Safe House: Cape Town.”