Safe Men

on August 07, 1998 by Luisa F. Ribeiro
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   "Safe Men" starts out with an amusing cross-cutting sequence that links a hopelessly untalented singing duo, Sam (Sam Rockwell) and Eddie (Steve Zahn), and a pair of vapid if skillful safe crackers, Mitchell (Josh Pais) and Frank (Mark Ruffalo). Yet the delightful promise of this setup goes absolutely nowhere, which can be said for this entire wildly uneven farce. Flashes of perspicacious wit in a quirky tale of mistaken identity are too often lost in ponderous stretches of deadly unfunny material by writer John Hamburg in his feature directorial debut.
   In Providence, R.I., a disheartened Sam and Eddie, perplexed by their lack of success as singers, are mistaken for the town's ace safecrackers by Veal Chop (Paul Giamatti), the right hand man of Big Fat Bernie Gayle (Michael Lerner), head of the local Jewish mafia. Big Fat believes Sam and Eddie's denial of their notoriety are negotiating ploys, and forces them into a series of tests to prove their abilities. In that remarkable world of comic coincidences that are either brilliant or inane, Mitchell and Frank rob the same locations, providing Sam and Eddie with the right blend of mystery and credibility for adequate cover. Big Fat hatches a plot with the boys to torment his rival, Good Stuff Leo (Harvey Fierstein); Sam winds up falling hard for Leo's daughter (and Frank's ex), Hannah (Christina Kirk), who's trying to break herself of a penchant for (surprise!) crooks. In another fatuous twist, Sam discovers his own criminal legacy and is faced with making a life-changing decision for his future. Singers and safe men eventually meet up to turn the tables on the mob.
   Humor always walks a thin line, but Hamburg, although scoring points with his idiosyncratic setting, too often falls over it and misses. Giamatti, Rockwell and Lerner give it their best and their individual timing is frequently all that holds the material together. Aiming for the audience that made "The Wedding Singer" successful, "Safe Men's" sporadic laughs are buried under the flinches and groans brought on by the effort of trying to be too cute for its own good.    Starring Sam Rockwell, Steve Zahn, Paul Giamatti and Michael Lerner. Directed and written by John Hamburg. Produced by Andrew Hauptman, Ellen Bronfman, Jeffrey Clifford and Jonathan Cohen. An October release. Comedy. Rated R for language. Running time: 89 min.
Tags: Starring Sam Rockwell, Steve Zahn, Paul Giamatti, Michael Lerner, written by John Hamburg, Produced by Andrew Hauptman, Ellen Bronfman, Jeffrey Clifford, Jonathan Cohen, An October release, Comedy, mystery, twist, future, life-changing, singers
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