Safe Men

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Safe Men

The vast majority of direct-to-video films are not very good, lacking not only star power and budget, but ideas and imagination. Every once in a while, though, a movie is denied a proper theatrical release not because it's bad, but because it just isn't the sort of film for which a studio is willing to risk a multimillion-dollar advertising budget. Safe Men is one of these movies, a modest but engaging crime comedy starring Sam Rockwell and Steve Zahn as hapless lounge musicians who are mistaken for a pair of brilliant safecrackers and forced to do a series of jobs for a portly Jewish mobster (Michael Lerner). If that brief plot description makes the film sound vaguely similar to Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket, it should; it functions as a sort of Bottle Rocket Lite, sharing a deadpan, consistently sustained comic tone, as well as a palpable affection for its characters. Almost everyone in Safe Men is pathetic on some level, but first-time writer-director John Hamburg grants even his least significant characters a humanity that gives the film a sort of warm, fuzzy glow. One of the great things about independent movies is that they offer gifted character actors an opportunity to take advantage of bigger, juicier roles than they're usually allowed in studio films, and accordingly, Safe Men features wonderfully understated performances by not just Rockwell, Zahn, and Lerner, but also Paul Giamatti, who steals scenes as Lerner's amiable, hopelessly needy toady. At 83 minutes, Safe Men is awfully slight, but it proves that Hamburg is a director to watch.

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