1998, R, 115 min. Directed by John Hamburg. Starring Sam Rockwell, Steve Zahn, Paul Giamatti, Michael Lerner, Harvey Fierstein, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Pais, Christina Kirk.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 7, 1998
If Sam (Rockwell) and Eddie (Zahn) are the most misguided and talentless singing duo in all of Providence, Rhode Island (and they are), they are even more talentless and inept in their new line of work -- safe cracking. In this wryly hilarious new comedy by first-timer John Hamburg, a case of mistaken identity turns these two hapless stage performers into hapless criminals, although their deadpan equilibrium sustains them through the net failures they experience in each of these occupations. Sam Rockwell (Box of Moonlight, Lawn Dogs) and Steve Zahn (Out of Sight, That Thing You Do, subUrbia), two of the funniest and hardest-working young actors around, are fabulously cast in this movie that is as much about delivery and pacing as it is about the details of what transpires. If there is any justice in the entertainment world, one day these two actors will both be huge household names and the title of this early movie in which they starred together will be a tie-breaking question on Jeopardy. Though the movie's deadpan heart beats with Rockwell and Zahn, they are supported by a wonderful ensemble of comic actors, including Michael Lerner (Barton Fink, Eight Men Out), Harvey Fierstein (Torch Song Trilogy, Bullets Over Broadway), and Paul Giamatti (Howard Stern's nemesis, Pigface, in Private Parts). To describe too much of the plot, however, is to give away too many of the jokes. Dejected though not broken following a lifeless performance at a Polish social club, Sam and Eddie stop in at a neighborhood tavern where they are mistaken by Veal Chop (Giamatti) for two of his ace safecrackers. They become sucked into a plot that leaves them caught between Providence's two Jewish mobsters, Big Fat Bernie Gayle (Lerner) and Good Stuff Leo (Fierstein). Big Fat Bernie has a son, Little Big Fat, who is about to make his Bar Mitzvah, and Good Stuff Leo has a comely daughter who has a penchant for bad boys. And Eddie has a long-buried family tradition of larceny to grapple with. All of it is embedded in a body of little moments that thrive on such things as phony ass padding, gangster gift baskets, Lucite Stars of David, and one dead-on Say Anything gag. All in all, this summer has been a good season for adult comedies, and Safe Men furthers the R-rated comedy path carved out by There's Something About Mary and Baseketball. Safe Men opens up comedy's combination lock on safecrackers, Jewish gangsters, and abysmally bad singer-songwriters.