Safe Men (United States, 1998)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

On the scale of dumb summer comedies, Safe Men ranks a lot closer to Mafia! than to There's Something about Mary. Oh, the film has its share of amusing moments, and a few of the roles have been filled through inspired casting, but there's still too little here to justify a trip to a movie theater. It would be a lot easier to recommend this picture for video viewing, since we demand so much less of the product that plays in our living rooms.

One thing that Safe Men has going for it is the cheerfully screwy premise, although it does too little with such a potentially promising foundation. Eddie (Steve Zahn) and Sam (Sam Rockwell) are inept musicians with IQs that aren't close to the three-digit range. They're Wayne and Garth for the art house crowd. One night, by being in the wrong bar at the wrong time, they are greeted by a scruffy-but-friendly looking guy who identifies himself only as Veal Chop (Paul Giamatti). Before the two guys know what's happening, they have been mistaken for the best safe crackers in Providence, R.I., and are being recruited by one Jewish gangster, Big Fat Bernie Gayle (Michael Lerner), to break into the vault of another Jewish gangster, Goodstuff Leo (Harvey Fierstein). Their goal: steal the Stanley Cup so that Bernie can give it to his son (Michael Schmidt) as a bar mitzvah present. The penalty for failure: death. The complications: Sam is in love with Leo's daughter, Hannah (Christine Kirk), and there are two legitimate safe crackers after the same prize.

Safe Men is peppered with humor, some of which is inventive, but much of which doesn't work. Sorry, but I didn't laugh at Eddie and Sam crooning to a room full of geriatrics, nor did I find it funny when those two were caught red-handed trying to break into their first safe. Michael Lerner's antics are more embarrassing than humorous, and Christine Kirk is simply boring. On the other hand, I did enjoy the interplay between the two real, neurotic safe men, and there were a few chuckles to be had from Leo's off-the-wall story about flammable pants.

As I already indicated, I wasn't thrilled with the casting of Lerner or Kirk, but Harvey Fierstein, who can be funny without trying, is brilliant. His very presence makes certain scenes amusing. Sam Rockwell (Lawn Dogs) and Steve Zahn (Out of Sight) are perfect as the clueless protagonists. These two have at least as much charisma as Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. Unfortunately, they aren't given much better material than those two had to work with in Dumb and Dumber.

Director John Hamburg clearly has an affinity for Tarantino-like dialogue, yet, although he manages to capture the Pulp Fiction director's predilection for irrelevant conversation and pop references, the rhythms are all wrong and the lines lack panache. In fact, that's not just true of the dialogue; it's true of the movie as a whole. Despite a rousing disco sequence at the end and a couple of well-developed comic set pieces, there's not enough worthwhile material to fill the ninety minute running time. As a result, the safe bet for anyone considering a trip to see Safe Men is to wait for a better combination.

Safe Men (United States, 1998)

Director: John Hamburg
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Steve Zahn, Michael Lerner, Harvey Fierstein, Paul Giamatti, Christina Kirk, Michael Schmidt
Screenplay: John Hamburg
Cinematography: Michael Barrett
Music: Theodore Shapiro
U.S. Distributor: October Films
Run Time: 1:30
U.S. Release Date: 1998-08-07
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1