In the last seven years Denzel Washington has paired with director Tony Scott on four hyperkinetic ultra-saturated feature films: Man on Fire Deja Vu The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 and Unstoppable. When he strays from the time-honored action collaboration you'd think the man would take a break from the format. Not so—as Washington's new film Safe House clearly demonstrates.
Daniel Espinosa director of the acclaimed Swedish crime drama Snabba Cash shoots his espionage thriller with Scott-ian flair complete with rapid camera movement a palette of eye-scorchingly bright colors and fragmented editing. If Safe House was emotionally compelling the stylistic approach might make the narrative sizzle—but the script is as simple and familiar as they come: Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is a CIA agent with a monotonous gig. He's a safe housekeeper tasked with maintaining a stronghold in South Africa in case the feds need to stop by for some…interrogating. After a year of begging for field work and keeping the joint tidy Weston finds himself embroiled in the investigation of Tobin Bell (Denzel Washington) an ex-CIA notorious for selling information on the black market. A group of agents bring Bell in to Weston's safe house for a routine waterboarding but everything is thrown into chaos when the lockdown is infiltrated by machine-wielding baddies looking to put a bullet in Bell's head. To keep the captor alive Weston goes on the run with Bell in hand…never knowing exactly why everyone wants the guy dead.
The setup for Safe House provides Washington and Reynolds two fully capable action stars to do their thing and to do it well. The two characters have their own defining characteristics that each actor bites off with ferocity: Reynolds' Weston is a man drowning in circumstance built to kick ass but still out of his league and just hoping to get back to his gal in one piece. Bell has years of experience boring into the heads of his opponents and Washington plays him with the necessary charisma and confidence that make even his most despicable characters a treat to watch.
But the duo fight a losing battle in Safe House contending with the script's meandering action and ambiguous stakes that turn the Bourne-esque thriller into a grueling experience. Much of the movie is an extended chase scene where the object of the bad guys' desire is never identified. It's a mystery!—but the lack of info comes off as confusing. Safe House cuts back and forth between the compelling relationship between Weston and Bell and a war room full of exceptional actors (Vera Farmiga Brendan Gleeson and Sam Shepherd) given nothing to do but spurt straightforward backstory and typical "there's no time Mr. ______!" exclamatory statements. Caking it is Espinosa's direction which lacks any sense of coherent geography. The action is never intense because you have no idea who is going where and when and why.
Safe House is a competently made movie with enough talent to keep it afloat but without any definable hook or dramatic emphasis it plays out like an undercooked version of the Denzel Washington/Tony Scott formula. Which is unfortunate as four solid ones already exist.
Top Story: Fox Realizes American Dream
According to the figures from Nielsen Media Research, it looks like Fox came out on top in the last week of the 2002-03 television season, fueled by the finale of American Idol's second season. According to The Hollywood Reporter, last Wednesday's Idol finale--which saw Ruben Studdard crowned the new idol over Clay Aiken--took in 38.1 million viewers, pushing Fox ahead with a total of 13.8 million viewers for the week. Idol's closer, after February's Joe Millionaire finale on Fox, was also the second-highest rated entertainment program on any network during the season. Following Fox was CBS (10.8 million), NBC (10.1 million) and ABC (7.6 million).
Don't Give West Virginians a Bad Name
The Putman County, West Virginia Superintendent Sam Sentelle--who fears West Virginians are being portrayed in a bad light, especially given the horror film Wrong Turn, in which where a group of young people run into three gruesome mountain men in the woods of West Virginia--has changed his mind about DreamWorks' film Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!. Initially, Sentelle wanted high schools in the county to disallow the studio to film in their schools, The Associated Press reports. But since discovering the plot-- which follows a young West Virginian girl (Kate Bosworth) who wins a date with a Hollywood star--he has decided the film depicts his state favorably.
Outfest Announces Lineup
The 21st annual Outfest, Los Angeles' gay and lesbian film festival, has picked 189 features, documentaries and short films for its roster. According to The Hollywood Reporter, this includes opening night film Party Monster, which stars Macaulay Culkin and Seth Green, and Mambo Italiano, a gay romantic comedy in the vein of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The festival runs July 10-21.
Warner Bros. on Top
What a difference $200 million can make. The blowout success of The Matrix Reloaded, with its cume of $209.5 million, has shot Warner Bros. to the top of the North American market-share race. AP reports that at the end of April, Warners was in third behind Disney and Sony, with $244.5 million in grosses. The top-grossing film at that time for the studio was Kangaroo Jack with $66.4 million.
Aretha Franklin Arson Case Gets Some Help
Investigators probing into the arson fire that destroyed Aretha Franklin's house Oct. 25 are asking the Michigan state Attorney General's office for help, AP reports. Prosecutors told AP "legal and factual complexities" in the case prompted them to request an independent review and analysis by Attorney General Mike Cox's office in order to determine if any charges should be issued.
Malcolm Producer Defects to Bernie Mac
Michael Borkow, one of the producers of Fox's Malcolm in the Middle, will be taking over as executive producer for The Bernie Mac Show, replacing creator/executive producer Larry Wilmore, The Hollywood Reporter reports. Wilmore was asked by Fox to step down in March over creative differences and the direction of the show.
Toronto Concert To Allay SARS Fears
Canadian acts Avril Lavigne, Sarah McLachlan, Barenaked Ladies, Tragically Hip, Sum 41, Our Lady Peace, Glenn Lewis, and Remy Shand will perform in a special concert to boost the city's economic and tourism problems in the wake of an outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). Billboard magazine reports Ontario cabinet ministers Jim Flaherty and Brian Coburn announced Wednesday the concert will be held June 21 at Toronto's Skydome and the adjacent Air Canada Centre.
Role Call: All in the Family
Yet another offspring of a famous celebrity is breaking into showbiz. Ron Howard's daughter, Bryce Dallas Howard, has just signed to make her feature film debut in M. Night Shyamalan's The Woods. Howard will join stars Joaquin Phoenix and Ashton Kutcher in a story set in 1897 about a close-knit community that lives with the frightening knowledge that a mythical race of creatures resides in the woods around them.