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Safe House has potential, but is it enough?

Patrick McManus | Tuesday, February 7, 2012

From a trailer one can glean a film’s genre, the actors who portray the main characters, possibly the relationship between those characters, perhaps the primary setting and the central conflict. All of those elements are important for gauging potential interest in a film. But the quality of the film is not a product of its parts; rather, quality emerges from the way the concepts are executed. A trailer does not give much indication of how deftly the pieces of a film were crafted. That is why I am worried.

“Safe House” is an action-thriller film that stars Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds, set for release on Feb. 10. The trailer looks exciting. Washington plays a rogue CIA agent taken into custody by Reynolds in a titular safe house, but something goes wrong and the two end up on the run through South Africa. It’s a premise laden with potential. Indeed, “Safe House” could be a smart, action-packed, awesome movie. But it could just as easily be an incoherent mess.

Washington makes quality movies. He is a great actor who has a solid track record of picking movies that are exciting, while maintaining a certain sophistication. But Washington’s performance isn’t the factor that determines the movie’s overall quality.

The director is responsible for that, and for some of Washington’s best action movies, he has worked with talented directors. He worked with Tony Scott (“Top Gun”) on such films as “Man on Fire,” “Déjà Vu” and “The Taking of Pelham 123.” Ridley Scott directed “American Gangster,” while Spike Lee helmed “Inside Man.”

Daniel Espinosa, the director of “Safe House,” has not yet made a movie outside Scandinavia. Will he adroitly utilize his actors’ skills in putting together his movie, or will he cobble a poor approximation of a compelling story? Until it comes out, there is no way to know.

But if it was just an untested director, I don’t think I’d be so anxious. “Safe House” also has to overcome Ryan Reynolds. I don’t find Reynolds to be a good actor, and he has ruined two great super heroes for me: Deadpool and the Green Lantern.

I doubt even a poor performance from Reynolds can ruin “Safe House” because Denzel even made Ethan Hawke seem like a likable guy in “Training Day.” If “Safe House” turns out to be another “Training Day” and the similarities in the relationship between the main characters are there, that would be awesome.

However “Safe House” turns out, there are enough factors to explain why it came out that way. The main reason I hope it is a good movie ­¾ a thought-provoking movie ¾ is because of its setting. Cape Town is a wonderfully diverse and vibrant city. From Table Mountain and the Malay Quarter to the Castle of Good Hope and the townships, where hundreds of thousands of poor South Africans live in deplorable conditions of poverty, there is perhaps no city quite as interesting as Cape Town. I hope they do justice to the setting. There is a lot to work with, and Cape Town could enormously enhance the flavor of the movie.

On the other hand, “Safe House” could turn out to be another run-of-the-mill, evanescent action flick; that would be a shame given the potential of the cast and the setting.