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Safe House – (Richard Pearson overseen by Daniel Espinosa) – a 3-line pitch action movie


Denzel does Denzel



Safe House – (Richard Pearson overseen by Daniel Espinosa)

Nobody does Denzel better than Denzel does Denzel. Unfortunately Denzel nowadays only ever does Denzel: result – too much Denzel. Yes Denzel lady fans: hard to believe, but it’s true.

The only way to access the considerable talent of this fine screen actor, it seems to me, is to by-pass the ego. That requires I think that he not have the total control he now appears to exercise over his product output – here as Executive Producer. Now so well established, as rich as anyone could want to be, he has the luxury to pick and choose what Hollywood actors like to call ‘projects’. Maybe a good start would be to eschew ‘projects’ and call them scripts, screenplays: then perhaps Mr Washington would exercise his obvious intelligence to make a film with a screenplay worthy of the name and his ability.

Safe House is a 3-line pitch movie if ever I saw one. Something like:

“Frustrated rookie CIA agent side-lined manning a CIA Safe House in South Africa gets legendary, rogue agent Tobin Frost to baby-sit. Corrupt senior CIA agents try to eliminate him. Idealistic Rookie Matt Weston stops them.”

That’s it. Don’t get me wrong: this is a tense, edge-of-the-seat ride for about 30 minutes until the inevitable law of diminishing returns sets in when Tobin’s (even the name is sooo sooo cooool) mercenary pursuers crack open their third-truck-load of munitions with which they have so far sprayed half of Johannesburg, from city centre to Langa township, in a vain attempt to wrest this icon of espionage from the of course soon-to-be-legendary himself Matt Weston.

The mystery is that Denzel Washington has been in more than enough good, exciting movies to know that tension, suspense, thrills need cadence. A film with an actual plot rather than a vestigial story-line, offers the perfect opportunity to orchestrate action sequences that make sense because they further the search for what only the writer knows and we are nail-bitingly trying to find out. A good director, Hitchcock was of course the paradigm, detaches the veils of the mystery, Salome-like, seductively one by one. These quiet moments of opening out the plot give us some respite in which to catch our breath and be lulled into a false sense of security before the next adrenalin-pumping action sequence. Here, director Espinosa just throws Salome at us, stark naked, snarling ‘come and get me’. So we do: wearyingly fast, furious and in the end tediously.

I will bet that anyone who sees even a modest number of Hollywood action movies could write the ‘plot’ of this hack job almost exactly on the back of an envelope without even buying a ticket.

My unconventional title credits represent the truth of this and so much routine Hollywood output: these films aremade by the editors, not the Directors. Richard Pearson edited among others The Bourne Supremacy, United 93, Quantum of Solace. Here is technical mastery par excellence. Films like Safe House are assembled like breath-taking lego constructions by an army of Special and Visual effects specialists, Sound and Art design and direction etc etc. While these collaborative skills are essential to any Hollywood movie, Safe House is just the latest depressingly familiar product to roll off the assembly line: like a perfectly made, dazzlingly shiny very expensive executive toy. A triumph of style over substance. To switch metaphors, it’s a donut movie: succulent, perfectly cooked dough; satisfyingly lightly crispy shell with mouth-watering sugar frosting. Addictive like alcohol: you don’t know you’ve had too much, until you’ve had too much. Sans nourishment; sans taste; and eventually, sans teeth. And the writing, the script, are at the very centre, the very heart of the donut.

Safe House offers a good night out with the lads or a long-suffering partner. A long-time boxer, daring Denzil at least looks convincing as a hard man, helped this time by having dropped a bit of weight. Ryan Reynolds the engaging, light-touch player from the delicious Definitely Maybe and not-half-bad The Proposal, proves that he can play urgent, approximate tough, and survive enough physical injuries to have put him in intensive care about 45 minutes in.

The rest is waste. It is always revealing when researching a review to realise you didn’t actual register the names of a single character in the movie. Except TOBIN of course.

Another film-nerd hint dear reader. I always avoid restaurants offering menu items like a ‘symphony’ or a ‘cacophony’ of vegetables. Film-wise it is always a bad sign to see characters with super-cool names, even worse – surnames only. Warning signals here: Tobin Frost, Harlan Whitford (Bradley’s OK but that’s a different story), Carlos Villar; Velez, Vargas, Keller, Beck.

Oh by the way: Matt (think Mattie and it’ll kill the movie) has a French girlfriend but she hasn’t really got anything much to do with anything so I forgot to mention her. Can’t for the life of me remember her name.


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