The hero role goes to Ryan Reynolds, who is decent but lightweight. As Matt, he is bored running a CIA safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. Boredom ends with the unexpected arrival of Tobin Frost (Washington). Frost is a genius of ruthlessness, a fabled CIA agent gone rogue, now selling for many millions a tiny cyber file that incriminates about half of the world’s spy agencies. To hide it, he needles the thing into his leg (infection is never an issue).
Frost “rewrote the book on interrogation,” but director Daniel Espinosa is not about to rewrite the book (or comic book) of standard action pictures. He shows some waterboarding, yet torture just blends into the amorphously morbid indictment of all secret government procedures. He works up some competitive bonding between Matt and Frost, but that gets pulverized by the zeal to feed viewers their adrenaline pellets every few minutes: chases, crashes, maulings, a woman trampled at a soccer stadium, a huge (fake) explosion. Villains are disposable, treachery is pervasive, and good actors (Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard, Rubén Blades) are plot dots with familiar faces.
Both the story and the action sprees defy close examination. They are so juiced and looped and crazed for quick payoff that we can shut down our minds and become Pavlovian eyeballs. A nice, humane moment over a bottle of wine is soon shattered by gunfire. The Great Debaters wasn’t bad, but it has been way too long since a first-rate Washington movie. The waste of a great talent fits this film’s cynicism.
Reviewed in the movie capsules: Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, The Secret World of Arrietty, This Means War.