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'Safe House' review: Notice it's not called "Fiercely Original House"

Matt Pais, @mattpais

RedEye movie critic

February 9, 2012

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** (out of four)

Stop me if you've heard this before:
 
Someone in a government organization (FBI/CIA/whatever) may be corrupt.
 
A former operative is now one of the most dangerous men on the planet.
 
Foreign, anonymous villains have no names and slightly inferior driving skills to our hero.
 
Yes, all this freshness can be yours if you visit “Safe House,” an action movie that might be better if it weren’t about anything. The chases and fights are fine; that’s not the issue. The issue is that the story, in which under-stimulated CIA agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) must secure ex-CIA agent/current traitor Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), has no rocks to uncover. This Capetown-set action flick is a battlefield of the familiar, without the complexity or the spark to make it explode.
 
Recalling the political simplicity of disappointments like “Green Zone” and “Rendition,” “Safe House” wastes Vera Farmiga in a thankless command center role (a la “Source Code”) and revolves around a secret file that “Mission: Impossible” has tracked down about a zillion times. Washington, quieting down his swagger, and Reynolds, exploring fear instead of his usual arrogance, work individually but never mesh, except when Matt locks Tobin in a trunk and he breaks out from the inside. Their physical conflict achieves more than their conversation, which tackles the inevitability of corruption as if we hadn’t already figured out what’s going on 20 minutes ago. Anyone who says"Safe House" will keep you guessing is either a liar, or just a really bad guesser. 

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 7:30 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com. @mattpais