DVD Release Date: June 5, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: February 10, 2012
Rating: R (for strong violence throughout and some language)
Genre: Action, Crime, Mystery
Run Time: 115 min.
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Actors: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard, Ruben Blades, Robert Patrick

Call it the Bourne Epidemic, or the Greengrass Effect (after the director of The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum), but shaky-camera syndrome has taken hold of today’s action movies. The spy thriller is particularly prone to this technique—a restless camera during shots that, in other movies, would be static, building to crazed chase sequences dominated by quick zooms, fast cuts and enough motion to keep viewers off balance.

Safe House, directed by Daniel Espinosa from a script by David Guggenheim, suffers from shaky-camera syndrome and certain story similarities to the Bourne movies. (Not to mention having the same cinematographer—Oliver Wood—who shot The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum.) Had it just slowed down and trusted its audience more, it might have been a better film, but Safe House is too skittish in its story of rogue CIA agents to let its U.S.-government-is-the-bad-guy message sink in. So it sketches it out, throws in some energetic car- and foot-chase scenes, adds lots of gunfire and bookends it with a meaningless romantic subplot.

The basic storyline goes like this: Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington, Unstoppable) is a wanted man. A former CIA agent, he’s been on the run for nine years, knowing that if he ever emerges from hiding he’ll be thrown to the wolves, cast as a villain against his own country. He resurfaces in South Africa, where he’s obtained crucial information that his old bosses are eager to keep from getting into the wrong hands.

Fleeing from assassins who pursue him through the streets of the city, he gives himself up and is taken to a safe house, occupied by agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds, The Change-Up). Weston hasn’t seen much activity at the house and isn’t quite sure how to handle the arrival of the notorious Frost, but before he can figure it out, Frost’s pursuers find the house and force their way in. Weston and Frost flee, leading to the type of spectacular car chase that’s become so prevalent in today’s action film that it no longer has the power to surprise.

The film cuts away from Weston and Frost to follow CIA agents Catherine Linklater (Vera Farmiga, Source Code), David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson, Albert Nobbs) and Harlan Whitford (Sam Shepard, Fair Game) as they track Weston and try to figure out what Frost has to offer. Frost wastes no time in trying to mess with Weston and free himself. When that doesn’t work out, he gets to educate Weston on how someone higher up in the agency has betrayed him, and how the agency will turn against Weston, just as it did against Frost. Frost then gets to watch knowingly as events play out just as he had predicted.