Why is Denzel Washington playing it “Safe”?


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Everybody likes Denzel Washington. A steady film presence for 25 years, he’s won two Oscars, been nominated for three others, and been a consistently reliable box office performer. Perhaps even more importantly, he’s never jumped up and down on Oprah’s couch, never been indicted for tax evasion, and never been caught by TMZ making drunken, racist comments. Sure, he’s not always the warmest of interview subjects and Bronson Pinchot definitely doesn’t like the guy, but stacked up against most other Hollywood mega-stars, those sorts of quibbles are rather small potatoes. But at this stage of his career, Denzel’s likeability is, weirdly enough, starting to become his greatest liability. There used to be a time when we loved him. But it’s hard to love a career that seems to be stuck on autopilot.

That sense of dull inertia is very apparent in his latest film, “Safe House,” and like too many of his recent offerings it’s a solidly-crafted action-thriller that’s kinda forgettable but mostly works because of how effortlessly cool Denzel Washington is in it. While it’s true that most stars eventually just start playing themselves, the Washington who shows up as the rogue C.I.A. agent in “Safe House” isn’t all that different than the one who played the veteran train engineer in “Unstoppable” or the ruthless crime boss in “American Gangster.” Whether he’s the good guy or the bad guy, Washington is always the coolest guy on the screen — the man with the lethal charm, the man with the quickest wit.

This is hardly the worst thing in the world. Unlike a lot of action stars, Washington can actually act — as if to prove that point, he snagged a Tony in 2010 for his performance in the Broadway revival of August Wilson’s “Fences” — and his ability to lock into a dependable onscreen persona guarantees that anything he’s in will be elevated simply because of his presence.

But that’s part of Washington’s problem of late. The decent-enough “Safe House” is symptomatic of a lot of his recent work. Sure, he’s not slumming in dreck like “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance,” but when’s the last time Washington’s career choices really surprised anyone? 2007’s “American Gangster” was his last serious drama, although it wasn’t particularly inspired, and his last really great hit was 2006’s “Inside Man.” Instead, what you usually get from him these days are so-so Tony Scott vehicles or blandly inspirational dramas that he directs. It’s gotten to the point that he’s almost become a charismatic self-parody, which explains why Jay Pharoah’s dead-on spoofs of him on “Saturday Night Live” have been so funny. They’re not particularly mean — Washington is too likeable to really rip — but the send-ups nicely tear apart the actor’s overly familiar acting tics: the casually menacing glare, the off-kilter cadences, the hair-trigger laugh.

I don’t want to be too harsh. In “Safe House,” Washington’s as magnetic as always, and unlike a lot of A-listers, his movies don’t seem as if they’re designed simply as vanity projects. (In both “Safe House” and “Unstoppable,” he’s actually quite generous to his younger co-stars — Ryan Reynolds and Chris Pine, respectively — allowing them to shine in their own right.) And give Washington credit: because he’s never been obsessed with being the world’s biggest action star, he’s focused on sturdy, stylish, respectable thrillers that don’t seem ludicrous for someone his age to be in. (He turned 57 at the end of last year.) He’s only had two $100-million-plus films in the last 12 years, but he turns out consistent doubles commercially, which have allowed him to age gracefully — a rare feat.

But, ultimately, what have all those sensible career decisions brought him? The grittiness of “Devil in a Blue Dress” is now 17 years ago. The stunning embodiment of Malcolm X in Spike Lee’s brilliant biopic is now two decades old. The genuinely daring turns — such as in “He Got Game” and “Training Day” — are starting to feel more like aberrations in his catalogue. Instead of pushing himself, Denzel Washington seems to have settled into a comfortable groove that does well enough with audiences and impresses enough critics that nobody really minds.

Still, watching “Safe House,” I felt like I had already seen this Washington enough. It’s an intense performance, but there’s oddly no sense of stakes to it. Washington has never been beset by scandal — he’s been married to the same woman for almost 29 years — and he’s also never really suffered from a downturn in his commercial clout. If you wanted to show a young actor how to conduct his career (and life), you’d point him in the direction of Washington. But, oddly enough, while an erratic star like Tom Cruise has had his shares of up and downs, at least he has a certain urgency that gives his movies a jolt. (Part of the fun of the most recent “Mission: Impossible” was Cruise’s all-in commitment to the terrific action sequences.) Washington is steady as a rock professionally, but I do worry that it’s neutered his sense of adventure in choosing roles. One of his generation’s best screen actors, he has too long being content to simply coast. Even worse, too many of us have gotten so used to this fact that we don’t even seem to care.

Benders 107 TG2

Stale Love Life?

5 Ways to Get Ready for Tonight’s Benders and Improve Your Relationship

Catch Benders tonight at 10P ET/PT on IFC.

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Tonight on a brand-new Benders, Karen has a surprise for Paul while Andrew has to deal with a motormouth girlfriend. Before you settle in at 10P ET/PT to watch, check out five ways tonight’s episode can improve your romantic life.

1. Communicate Your Needs in the Bedroom.

Communication is important in any relationship. Sometimes you want to talk about your day, and sometimes you feel like Anthony and just want to fall asleep listening to the latest Marc Maron podcast.

2.  Work on your excuse game.

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However, if you do need to find a way to, say, drone out your talkative girlfriend, don’t follow Anthony’s lead. Come up with an excuse that doesn’t lead to you mispronouncing “tinnitus.”

3. Rescue a cat together.

A pet can be a great way to inject some warmth into your relationship. Just make sure your significant other doesn’t break out into hives at the sight of a friendly feline.

4. Keep your lady away from Jim Breuer.

The Breu-ski cannot be trusted around the fairer sex.

5. If all else fails, remember: Use the Chubby.

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To make a relationship work, remember: there is no try, only do. If Paul didn’t work hard to keep Karen, she’d probably be Mrs. Brue-ski right now.

Documentary Now Dronez

Fred Roasts Vice

Fred Armisen Roasted Vice CEO as His ‘Dronez’ Character From Documentary Now!

Documentary Now! returns in 2016.

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Normally, receiving a prestigious award and praise from your peers would be a validating affair, but it’s a decidedly different experience when every facet of your personal and professional life is ruthlessly mocked by a dais of roasters. Such was the case for Vice CEO and gonzo journalist Shane Smith who got both barrels from comics and associates in honor of his Frank Stanton Award win for Excellence in Communication.

Along with Johnny Knoxville, HBO CEO Richard Plepler (who referenced Smith’s recent collaboration with President Obama by joking, “The President called Shane to thank him for the interview and the delightful contact high…”), and other media elites, Fred Armisen took Smith to the mat while dressed as Jeremiah, one of the many gonzo journalists who can be seen getting in over their heads in the Documentary Now! episode “Dronez: The Hunt for El Chingon.”

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And in case you missed Fred and Bill Hader as the Vice-like reporters of “Dronez,” you can stream the entire episode of Documentary Now! for free right now.


Gigi Gets Wasted

5 Ways to Get Ready for Tonight’s Boozy Gigi Does It

Catch Gigi Does It Mondays at 10:30P ET/PT on IFC.

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On tonight’s Gigi Does It, everyone’s favorite yenta gets her drink on at a wine tasting. As the episode shows us, it is possible to have a nice drink with friends without too many tears. Here are five ways to get ready for tonight’s wine-soaked Gigi Does It before it airs at 10:30P ET/PT on IFC.

1.  Learn the proper wine tasting etiquette.

There’s nothing more fun than tasting some fine wine with friends. Just be sure to learn the spitting versus swallowing etiquette.

2. Keep the conversation light.

When chatting with friends over a nice relaxing glass of wine, it’s important to keep things light. Unless you’re Ricky and the very sight of alcohol brings up years of repressed childhood trauma.

3. Support your wasted pals.

Tonight on Gigi Does It, Gigi steps in for her drunken pal Tretchy during an important speech. Gigi truly is a Dionne Warwick song come to life.

3. Hire a makeup crew for all your party selfie needs.

Not everyone can wake up and walk out the door looking their best. So be like Gigi Does It star David Krumholtz and assemble a team of professional makeup artists to give you the attention to bald cap blending and neck fold realism that you deserve.

4. Get some “hot takes” for cocktail hour.

In today’s post-Twitter world, one doesn’t have time to hear “hot take” on the latest trends beyond 140 characters. As such, it’s important to condense your incredulous rants on everything from Trump on SNL to healthy eating into bite-sized, Andy Rooney-esque tidbits. Watch the video above to hear Gigi’s take on Trump’s “cotton candy hair” and get some talking points for your next cocktail party.

5. Crack open Gigi’s book with a nice Chardonnay.

Like most seniors, Gigi knows how little appreciation grandparents receive from their grandkids. Which is why the saucy old broad penned a children’s book reminding today’s youth to call their grandmother. Pop open a bottle of your favorite tasty beverage and give it a read.


Cosplayers Gonna Play

7 Basic Tips for Talking to Cosplayers

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Since Todd Margaret was at New York Comic Con, we hit the show floor to ask costumed fans for some tips on how best to interact with cosplayers. Check out what we discovered below.

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Want more fun from New York Comic Con? Read the letter David Cross wrote to Todd Margaret fans.

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