The action-flick equivalent of a high five that hurts your hand, Swedish director Daniel Espinosa's noisy, nitric Safe House confirms two things we already know — 1) the gracefully graying Denzel Washington is still capable of taking over a movie; and 2) Ryan Reynolds, try as he might, is not legit leading man material.
Darting in and out of South African cities and shanties like a flying bug, Espinosa has a rugged shooting sensibility, but much of that edge is tempered by Reynolds' sulky CIA underling Matt Weston, whose pretty-boy deportment and hoodie-heavy wardrobe say fifth-year senior more than aspiring international spook. Assigned a dull post at a Cape Town safe house, Weston's world goes nuts when a tactical team shows up toting elusive rogue spy Tobin Frost (Washington), his first "house guest" in months.
Lethal with his mitts and skilled in mind games, Frost, keeper of a file of dirty secrets, is water-boarded in an incredibly raw scene Washington actually performed himself. Shortly after, the safe house is swarmed by armed baddies, forcing the inexperienced Weston to flee with Frost as his travel mate, CIA higher-ups Linklater (Vera Farmiga) and Barlow (Brendan Gleeson) tracking their every movement.
Though the cloak-and-dagger runs interference, Safe House is a straightforward chase movie, one that encourages Denzel to do Denzel. (If Training Day is a 10 on the D-Wash Intense-o-Meter, let's call this a 7.) The hand-to-hand fight sequences are often remarkable, but not so sharp that we forget it's goofball Reynolds throwing blows.