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Originally published Thursday, February 9, 2012 at 12:04 AM

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Movie review

'Safe House': Denzel Washington saves day in 'Bourne' knockoff

A movie review of "Safe House," a spy thriller packed with characters, scenes and situations that seem cloned from the blockbuster "Bourne" movies. What it has that the "Bournes" don't is fun-to-watch Denzel Washington.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

'Safe House,' with Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Sam Shepard. Directed by Daniel Espinosa, from a screenplay by David Guggenheim. 115 minutes. Rated R for violence, language. Several theaters.

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The needle of the déjà vu meter is pegged deep into the red zone in "Safe House." Just think of it as "Bourne to Run."

See if any of this sounds familiar: In a high-tech, video-screen-clogged control room, the CIA is tracking a runaway rogue superagent whose spy skills are off the charts. Orchestrating the hunt is a tough-as-nails female espionage exec played by ... wait a minute. That's not Joan Allen. That's Vera Farmiga. Her boss is a rangy agency higher-up. Scott Glenn? Nope, Sam Shepard. (Brothers in leathery looks, those two.)

Remember Matt Damon's incredible unarmed combat scenes in the "Bourne" movies, where he flattens adversaries right and left? Ryan Reynolds' character, Matt Weston, serves up a knockout variation on that theme, with hands cuffed behind his back no less.

Armies of heavily armed killers are tracking the quarry, shooting up the landscape with wild abandon. There is, naturally, a terrific car chase, full of flying bullets, screeching tires and crumpling fenders.

Familiar, all of it. Overly so. And what's weird about all this is that Universal, the studio distributing "Safe House," has an official "Bourne" sequel, "The Bourne Legacy," starring Jeremy Renner, coming out later this year. Seems like they're stepping all over their prized franchise with the so-similar "Safe House."

What "Safe House" has and the "Bournes" don't is Denzel Washington, and that's a significant difference indeed. He's silky smooth as the superspy, Tobin Frost.

With those armies of killers hot on his heels, Frost coolly tries to come in out of the cold in Cape Town, South Africa, turning himself in to the CIA there, which squirrels him away in a safe house run by Weston, an untested operative. Quicker than you can say, "unsafe house!" the bad guys bust in and send the pair fleeing for their lives.

On the run together, Frost deftly plants doubts in greenhorn Weston's mind about whether the CIA is worthy of the younger man's loyalty. With a calm demeanor and an enigmatic Mona Lisa smile, he undermines his minder.

He's always thinking three steps ahead of the kid. In the midst of "Safe House's" predictable mayhem and unoriginal plotting, Washington is fun to watch as he outsmarts everyone again and again.

Soren Andersen:

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