They should have called it “Safe Bet” because that’s what it is. Take a bunch of well-known and well-liked action films, mash a number of key plot points together, and slap in some recognizable faces. That’s Safe House.
CIA agent Matt Weston (played by Ryan Reynolds) is in what seems like a dead-end post managing a safe house in South Africa, where nothing ever happens. He’d love a transfer, but there are others with more experience than he, but he’s not likely to get the necessary experience in the role he currently has. Of course, he wasn’t planning on having one of the CIA’s most wanted men, spy-turned-traitor Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) delivered to his doorstep. Weston was just supposed to be the host while other agents tortured him to try to get him to talk, but the safe house fell under attack by others who wanted to make sure Frost was dead before he got the chance to talk. Weston and Frost managed to escape with their lives, but they weren’t out of the woods yet.
Weston got in touch with CIA headquarters to tell them of the attack, but bosses David and Catherine (Brendan Gleeson and Vera Farmiga) weren’t in a position to get him any help for several hours, and their best bet might be to get him to another safe house a few hours away. During this time, Weston and Frost would have to continue to elude the bad guys, and Weston would have to keep the highly-trained and very resourceful Frost from escaping. And it’d be great if he could figure out what Frost knows and why the attackers want him dead.
It’s pretty hard not to notice the things that Safe House has in common with a number of other films. It opens with what is clearly taken right out of Assault on Precinct 13 (in which a jail falls under attack by people who want to kill a high-profile prisoner), and it fairly quickly transitions into 16 Blocks (in which a police officer needs to transport a prisoner from jail to a courthouse to stand trial while others are very intent on ensuring that he doesn’t make it). There are also unmistakable similarities with The Bourne Identity and Mission: Impossible. Unfortunately, Safe House doesn’t live up to any of the films that were its inspiration.
Even with a number of other films from which to draw, Safe House can’t avoid falling into a number of traps. It relies far too much on implausible coincidence. It has a couple of plot twists, but they were pretty easy to see coming, even after having seen only the trailer. And one of the most important plot points lies in trying to figure out how the bad guys managed to find the safe house, but when a completely plausible explanation was suggested, it was immediately discarded for no good reason.
If you’ve never seen it, you’d be better off watching Assault on Precinct 13. The original 1976 version by John Carpenter is best, but even the 2005 remake is better than Safe House.