Safe House plays out just like a romantic comedy, only with slightly more explosions, car chases, hand-cuffings, ear-yankings and stabbings with glass shards.
You know how it goes. The leads meet cute, maybe at a park bench or perhaps in an interrogation room in South Africa. They vow to spend most of the rest of the movie together, either because they’ve found true love or because one is constantly pointing a gun at the other’s pancreas. Then comes the inevitable misunderstanding that separates them, which can be maybe an unwelcome visit from an ex or an orchestrated diversion complete with disguises and an orchestrated cover story provided by the international media.
This breathless bromance, which arrives just in time for Valentine’s Day, pairs Sexiest Man Alive 1996 Denzel Washington with Sexiest Man Alive 2010 Ryan Reynolds. Sure, they may rough-house and insult one another a bit — after all, Washington plays a suspected double agent on the loose with sensitive material and Reynolds is the greenhorn CIA agent sent to track him down — but deep down, you just know they really, really like each other in the same way grabby UFC fighters seem to when they’re writhing around on the ground.
The non-romantic element of attraction is certainly there. Reynolds knows Washington is a bad boy, but he’s convinced he can change him in ways that waterboarding could not. In turn, Washington wants Reynolds to come out of his patriotic shell and live a little.
Just as in all romantic comedies, there are more than a few ridiculous leaps of faith you’re asked to make in order to buy the charade. For instance, it’s tough to buy that the consortium of Western spy networks couldn’t capture Washington for years, yet Reynolds gets him back in his grasp with the ease he delivered one-liners on the show Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place, a great show which is inexplicably still not available on DVD. Ahem. But back to the review.
Also, Washington’s fighting skills are a bit exaggerated and bizarrely unbalanced. He can take down a room of highly-trained agents with ease, and break out of a car trunk, take control of a vehicle and survive a rollover crash, yet is powerless when a rookie agent cuffs him to a wall.
Despite all the silliness, or perhaps because of it, Safe House stays interesting as it shepherds you through genuinely surprising twists, brutal fisticuffs and some plotting every bit as clever as MAD magazine’s recurring Spy vs. Spy feature.
You can probably find a better way to spend a pre-Valentine’s weekend night, even if you’re alone and just flipping through channels on TV. But one thing’s for certain. You sure as heck won’t be able to find Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place on, because the world hates you and refuses to ever let you see that show again.
Starring Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Robert Patrick, Sam Shepard and Brendan Gleeson. Written by David Guggenheim. Directed by Daniel Espinosa. Rated R. 115 minutes.