At the Movies: Safe House

I hated Jar Jar Binks in 2D, so why would I want to see him in 3D? And I was going to see “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” but I forgot about the screening and didn’t particularly care once I realized I missed it. And don’t get me started on “The Vow.”  Still, I didn’t completely wimp out this week.

Safe House

There’s no doubt that Denzel Washington is a charismatic and compelling presence on screen. Ryan Reynolds isn’t in the same league but he’s not bad. Throw in Sam Shepard, Brendan Gleeson and  Vera Farminga and you’ve got a pretty high-caliber cast for an action thriller.

It’s a shame the story was so pat and predictable.

Washington stars as Tobin Frost, a legendary CIA operative who went rogue many years ago and now sells secrets to the highest bidder. Currently hiding out in South Africa, he’s got some really hot intel that several powerful people do not want getting out.

After being chased by several thugs with guns, Frost turns himself in to the American Consulate. From there he’s transported to a safe house run by rookie CIA agent Matt Weston (Reynolds). Before the third round of waterboarding can begin, those same thugs with guns show up and slaughter everyone but Frost and Weston, who narrowly escape.

Back at CIA central, boss man Harland Whitford (Shepard) is trying to make sense of what’s going on. Two rival subordinates offer conflicting opinions — Catherine Linklater (Farmiga) thinks Weston has turned and is working with Frost; Weston’s mentor David Barlow (Gleeson) believes his protegé is trying to prove himself by bringing in Frost on his own.

“Safe House” boasts fine acting and some thrilling action but there’s so many tired clichés in the story. Even the chase scenes and action sequences are just warmed over “Bourne” territory.

My biggest gripe is the all-too-familiar “there’s a mole in the CIA” aspect. The second they reveal there’s a traitor on the inside, you know who it is — provided you’ve watched any action-adventure film of the last 20 years.  When the bad guy was finally revealed, Stevie and I turned and looked at each other and said — in hushed tones — “I knew it all along.”

Memo to Hollywood screenwriters: It’s no longer a plot twist if every movie does it.

There are other gaping plot holes, like why would you send a rookie agent with a dangerous, veteran agent into a crowded soccer stadium to pick up a duffel bag in a locker? Nothing could go wrong there, right?

I have other issues but I don’t want spoil the story any more than I already have, so we’ll leave it there. Directed by Daniel Espinosa, “Safe House” earns a pass for its decent cast and stylish look. If you can overlook its unoriginal story then it might be worth your time.

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