Safe House [1998/I]

This unusual film begins deceptively, seeming to be yet another high-tech spy flick laden with futuristic weaponry, computers running top-secret software (with the requisite flashy graphics), and the talented actor Patrick Stewart slumming at the center of a nonsensical mishmash. Stewart's presence itself is something of a tip-off, but when his character is soon glimpsed hanging upside down from an exercise device, watching a wall of security cam monitors while quoting H.L. Mencken, it's apparent that this isn't just another action film with an outsized firearms budget. In fact, nothing much seems to be what it appears. Mace Sowell, Stewart's character, claims to be a retired intelligence agent, but his daughter, who doesn't believe a word of it, trots him around to a succession of skeptical shrinks. And while his daughter interviews potential caretakers for her apparently deranged father, Sowell is viewed through the patio doors of his lavish house taking rather acrobatic target practice in the back yard. There is the plot of a thriller in all of this, but make no mistake about it, the most entertaining aspect of this quirky film is watching Stewart have a wonderful time playing an endearing curmudgeon who might be the craziest man alive, or perhaps a totally rational man who really does know some secrets that put himself and others in danger. --Robert J. McNamara

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