“Safe House,” as all Bourne fans know by now, is of course, a major misnomer. For bad guys who are taken there to be water boarded, or for good guys who flee there to escape the tentacles of evil-doers, it’s the last rooming house where you would want to be a guest.

“Safe House” is a Denzel action movie. That’s Denzel. You don’t need the last name, do you? In this fireworks extravaganza, replete with the mandatory car and foot chases, Denzel is a good boy turned bad, really bad. Did I say that out loud?

Denzel is Tobin Frost. OMG. What a great name. In the next year or so, there will be a plethora of kids and dogs, maybe even fish, named Tobin Frost. Tobin was a top dog with the CIA for a decade, a medal winner, role model. But somewhere along the line he went astray, probably because the CIA doesn’t pay very well, or that he didn’t get along with Leon Panneta. Tobin started selling state secrets and names to whomever met his price. That included Russia, China, Iran and possibly Wikipedia.
Now, all of the above have turned against him, and a small army of swarthy Mid-Eastern types has been dispatched to take him down with sniper rifles, small arms and dirty looks.

Tobin, after years in hiding and long thought dead, winds up in South Africa where all the uglies have surrounded him. It looks like the jig is up for Tobin, so he jettisons his weapons and belongings and gives himself up to the American Embassy. He probably saw a Bourne movie and thought that a good idea. But what works for Jason won’t work here.

The Langley gang (Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga and Sam Shephard, doppleganging the “Bourne” gang of David Strathairn, Joan Allen, etc.) zero in on him with all the space-age technology available. Then they send in a team to transport him to the aforementioned safe house.

Here they set about water boarding Mr. Frost, even though he said he would tell them anything they wanted to know, even the details of how Ron Paul was screwed out of the final Maine caucus tally.
All safe houses have a keeper or landlord, who does nothing all day but sit around watching the “Oprah” of whatever country they’re in while waiting for a guest.

This keeper is Ryan Reynolds, who has come a long way from “The Green Lantern” and “Change Up.” Ryan is now a full fledged Bourne, waiting to be Bourne again. Sorry. Ryan is Matt Weston, a very properly butch name for a spy. But in reality, Matt is simply a rookie waiting for the big coach in Washington to put him in.

Of course, all the very best people in world-wide spy houses know where Frost is, and they come and kick in the doors. All the good guys try to fend them off, but as you might have guessed, our Ryan pulls Tobin out, and off they go on a pilgrimage to safety.

This journey provides us with some of the very best fire fights, and action scenes since Jason kicked butt in Paris. Reynolds handles himself extremely well. We can see that he was given the best stunt handlers from the Bourne House.

The plot line here is not what we have grown accustomed to in the Bourne films. Director Daniel Espinoza devotes much of his time to providing the action we crave when we come to visit Denzel, and less time to the intellectual weavings of the Bourne House. We like Sam Shepherd, the great American playwright turned actor, but Strathairn owns the part of the nefarious mustache-twirling spy master, as does Joan Allen in the role of lady of the house.

Espinoza’s camera is beautifully used as it weaves its way through the South African slums, subways and byways of Cape Town. Its bustling streets offer a gang buster supply of doorways, passageways and side streets for Denzel and Ryan to dart in and out of.

David Guggenheim’s script is loaded with double agents, red herrings, and, I’m sorry to report, some very obvious yellow arrows pointing to those we suspect are really not what they seem to be. Ain’t it always the way? But we didn’t come expecting to see Carol Reed’s “Third Man” or Hitchcock’s “Suspicion.” We came to see Denzel evade the forces of evil, to turn away from a wounded thug for a moment, take a breath and turn back to put two more bullets in him.

The reliable much missed character actor Ruben Blades puts in a few moments here as a sort of Ronin in exile, and a lovely young Nora Arnezeder has a few moments as Ryan’s wet-eyed sweetie who thinks that perhaps he scouts locations for J.C. Penney.

“Safe House” pretends to be no more than what it is, a rip-roaring action adventure full of blood and guts. It has all the requisite class of the genre and a car load of good actors who appear to believe in what they’re doing. Any movie with Brendan Gleeson, even badly used as he is here, is worth sitting through. And then there is Denzel, our liberal Clint Eastwood.

J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor.


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