premiered on showtime, safe house (1999) belongs in the subgenre of what someone called the-great-house-movies. i don’t know if someone claimed that term but if not, i would like to claim credit in coining that term, in addition to i.o.a.s.™ (inconsequential opening action sequence). the-great-house movies, also could be called prime-real-estate-movies, are named for the main locations said movies take place. not so much due to the single setting of the movie but rather the most memorable part is often the house/mansion/condo/high rise/apartment and the respective interior design. off the top of my head, this category includes sliver, robert benton’s twilight, panic room, the dial m for murder remake a perfect murder, and to a lesser extent, trespass (2011).
patrick stewart plays mace sowell, who may or may not be a retired dia agent now may or may not be suffering from alzheimer’s. he’s a recluse who may or may not be paranoid about being assassinated by his former boss, now a presidential candidate (republican, of course). in order to avoid being put in a home by his daughter and son-in-law, mace has to put up with andi (kimberly williams, the bride from the father of the bride remake, and father of the bride part ii, a remake of father’s little dividend and sequel to the remake of father of the bride), the in home caretaker.
mace: what kind of name is andi?
andi: oh it’s short for andrea. what kind of name is mace?
mace: it’s short for in your face.
though the marketing seems to suggest a suspenseful mystery/thriller that takes place inside a high tech house, safe house (1998) turns out to be something weirder altogether. it also doesn’t help that i bought the movie under the pretense that it would be a die hard-ish movie. while most of the movie takes place in the house, it’s never the single-setting action movie i was led to believe.
what it is, rather, is closer to say conspiracy theory (which also stars patrick stewart), at least in the first act. the first act does a pretty good job and almost makes us think it’s one of those is-it-real or is-he-paranoid type situation that keeps you guessing until the end. the movie unfortunately only half succeed at this. it fails at the balancing act that’s crucial in the is-he-or-isn’t-he formula. though it’s got a pretty nice setup that we never see the actual presidential candidate other than what mace sees on tv and in newspaper.
despite its scale-tipping, and non-die-hard-ish-ness, i was still willing to go along with the movie. more unfortunate is the fact that they decided to go for comedy most of the time. the majority of the movie has to do with mace’s disease and him getting along with andi. these scenes are done in the traditional comedic partners-hating-each-other-but-later-learn-to-get-along routine. mace also runs drills with his pool boy stuart (craig shoemaker) in anticipation of various assassination scenarios a la the pink panther movies. shoemaker is a comedian and he seems to think that he’s rich little and tends to impersonate different movie icons. while most comedic elements fail, the film does succeed in toying with our expectations progressively in whether the upcoming action sequence is a real threat or simply a drill. i don’t know if everyone will find it funny but it’s kind of amusing for me to see captain picard in different costumes every time he leaves the house to see his psychiatrist, played by hector elizondo in a rare non-garry marshall movie appearance (elizondo also plays a psychiatrist in director eric steven stahl’s final approach in 1991).
i am all for genre/expectation-defying movies but i can’t quite give the movie a flat out recommendation. as you can tell, i’ve been trying not to give away much plot of the movie. despite its many flaws, i would, however, recommend the movie to stewart/star trek: tng fans who want to see the beloved captain fulfilling a different capacity. it’s also best to not read anything about the movie, not even the back of the video/dvd cover.
but man, what a house.
safe house (1999)
the pitch: die hard in a high tech house
bruno, the mcclane surrogate: captain picard, who’s more bald than john mcclane 1 and 2
the gruber factor: though not exactly a surprise, it would spoil the movie
the hans objective: see above
wrong place at the wrong time: kind of a reverse of the usual die hard-ish situation since mace only feels safe inside the house, so the villain(s) would have to come in to assassinate him. it does takes place mostly inside the house
the help: kimberly williams as the daphne to stewart’s martin crane, craig shoemaker as the kato to stewart’s pink panther
the family element: mace’s daughter and son-in-law. there are some red herrings but mostly they just want to put mace in a home
bonfire of the weaponry: various guns, various disguises and costumes, security cameras, pens, a 300(?)-year-old samurai sword, stealth
last man standing: i wasn’t expecting one but there is actually a one on one at the end, though it’s a bit anticlimactic
unbearables: as mentioned, stewart is hairless. there seems to be some kind of political backstory. there’s a speed-ish bomb-in-car sequence. mace is at one point barefoot and in a towel with a gun. hector elizondo was in the die hard-ish turbulence. stewart, of course, was in the die hard-ish masterminds, and a few bottle episodes of star trek: the next generation
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