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Safe House' worth a stay

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Action film elevated by strong lead performances
I imagine that we all have certain actors whose work we particularly enjoy. All movie stars are not created equal - everyone has a favorite, someone who consistently hits home runs in his or her eyes. On the flip side, I (and I'm sure most of you) also have actors - not many, but a few - whose work I simply cannot stand. For whatever reason, their continued popularity not only confuses me, but actively offends me as well. But what happens when a favorite and a not-favorite wind up on screen together?

'Safe House.' That's what happens.

Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds, 'The Change-Up') is a CIA 'housekeeper,' in charge of maintaining a safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. He's been at it for a year and is desperate for a promotion to field work. The job is monotonous and utterly boring. Right up until a CIA retrieval team shows up with legendary rogue agent Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington, 'The Book of Eli') in custody.

The team interrogates Frost, but it turns out that the safe house isn't all that safe after all. Weston winds up taking Frost and fleeing the scene, throwing himself off the deep end into a swirling sea of double-crosses and shadowy conspiracies. You see, Frost has something that might turn the world's intelligence communities upside down and there are a lot of people who are willing to do anything to take him out of the equation. So Weston can't trust his friends and can't trust his employers. In fact, it may turn out that the only person he can trust is his prisoner.

I adore Denzel Washington's work. I love what he brings to the table every time out. He's very talented and has a particular way of humanizing characters that exist on the fringes of morality. Tobin Frost is that sort of man, so the role is in Denzel's wheelhouse. And he offers a typically strong performance, full of subtlety, intelligence and dark humor.

I can't stand Ryan Reynolds. I find a lot of what he does to be off-putting; I feel like most of his career is built on looking like a smug d-bag. Despite my antipathy toward him, however, I have to say that he wasn't terrible here. I don't know if being up there with a master caused him to up his game, but Reynolds wasn't half-bad, as much as it pains me to say it.

The supporting cast was fairly strong, too. Vera Farmiga ('Source Code') and Brendan Gleeson ('Albert Nobbs') are great as feuding government agency higher-ups, while Sam Shepard ('Blackthorn') lends an air of mystery to CIA Director Harlan Whitford.

Still, it's the pairing of Washington and Reynolds that carries this movie to whatever success it achieves. Which is quite a bit, all things considered - the direction is workmanlike and the story is nothing new. However, the relationship between these two men makes a film that would otherwise be forgettable into a half-decent action movie. 'Safe House' isn't great cinema, but at the end of the day it's pretty good.

Granted, I'm giving most of the credit for that to Denzel, but still.

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