“Safe House” is an exposition-heavy mess, an epic waste of the time and talent of stars Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds and a cast of formidable supporting players given little to do beyond spouting exposition. Everything about this big-budget blowout from Swedish action director Daniel Espinosa and first-time screenwriter David Guggenheim plays like an idea based on another idea, the kind of anti-entertainment in which cars roll over for no physical reason other than to jack up the pseudo-excitement.
Washington stars as Tobin Frost, an ex-CIA traitor who spent the previous decade selling secrets and living off the grid. When Frost is suddenly apprehended in South Africa, the safe house where he is being interrogated gets attacked, forcing up-and-coming agent Matt Weston (Reynolds) to take Frost on the run as both men try to fend off attacks from rogue members of the agency. Meanwhile, agents Linklater, Barlow and Whitford (Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson and Sam Shepard) stand around a situation room in Virginia and rattle off plot points while repeatedly intoning the name “Tobin Frost,” the kind of overly clever moniker that seemingly only exists in broad-action films.
Early on, Frost gets waterboarded by an interrogator played by Robert Patrick, prompting the dumbfounded Weston to ask no one in particular, “Is this legal?” This is supposed to be one of the fast-rising stars of the CIA, and he acts like he's never seen or heard of the technique. Washington is far better than this, but he rarely proves it anymore — “Safe House” is not even at the level of one of his mind-numbing collaborations with Tony Scott such as “Deja vu” or “Unstoppable.” Gleeson, Farmiga and Shepard collect paychecks for perfunctory, lifeless performances — it's utterly dispiriting to see such talented actors wasting breath on Guggenheim's lifeless words. The Blu-ray edition features several options for viewing the action, but none are more enticing than the eject button.