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Movie review: 'Safe House' a safe bet for a thriller

Published February 10, 2012 4:18 pm

Review • Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds are well-paired in this brisk but predictable spy thriller.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

"Safe House" is a good lesson in star power and movie chemistry.

Without the charismatic bond Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds have with the audience, this "Bourne"-like thriller about international espionage might have come off as just another trite cloak-and-dagger exercise.

But who can resist these guys? Washington still exudes a super-cool persona better than anyone. And Reynolds again proves (after his wrenching performance in "Buried") that he's more than just a handsome face.

Swedish director Daniel Espinosa wisely cast these two in his quickly paced story about legendary former CIA agent Tobin Frost (Washington), a rogue spy who has been on the run from the government, trading secrets for money.

He's just been handed a small computer chip, the movie's Hitchcockian "MacGuffin" (the plot element that drives the story), and is almost killed by mysterious men who also want it. Frost then seeks protection from the U.S. Consulate in Cape Town, South Africa.

He's sent to a CIA safehouse run by agent Matt Weston (Reynolds), a rookie agent who's looking for more action as a full-time field operative. And that's what Weston gets when Frost is delivered to the safehouse and a firefight erupts with the bad guys.

Both manage to escape the attack, and Weston is charged with getting the rogue agent to another safehouse. But it won't be easy. Weston engages in some swift car chases, vicious fistfights and a gunbattle at a soccer stadium as he tries to get Frost across Cape Town.

There's a twist and turn here and there, but nothing in David Guggenheim's script holds real surprises. If you can't figure out what happens as the movie roars toward the end, you haven't seen any of the "Bourne" movies — or, for that matter, any other spy film from the past decade.

Espinosa keeps the pacing moving with his gritty texture and shaky-cam sensibilities, another holdover from the "Bourne" films, and the action is well crafted. There's one cutthroat fistfight later in the movie that's especially brutal.

But best of all, Washington and Reynolds demonstrate why they were hired to anchor this thriller. Washington may come off as the ultimate former spy, but his character isn't superhuman either (there's an especially nice moment when he has to use his reading glasses to look at the top-secret information on the computer chip). And Reynolds is convincing at playing a normal but desperate guy caught up in extraordinary circumstances, as he was as the entombed hostage in "Buried."

Despite its predictable script, "Safe House" is a safe bet for an entertaining thriller.

vince@sltrib.com

movies@sltrib.com

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Safe House

Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds lend much-needed star power to this action-packed thriller.

Where • Theaters everywhere

When • Opens Friday, Feb. 10

Rating • Rated R for strong violence throughout and some language

Running time • 115 minutes