“Safety” stars Jay Reeves, Thaddeus J. Mixson, Corinne Foxx, Luke Tennie, Matthew Glave, Hunter Sansone, Alex A.J. Gardner, Amanda Warren, and James Badge Dale. Released on Disney+ on December 11, 2020, the film chronicles a college student’s attempt to play football while taking care of his younger brother.
The film was directed by Reginald Hudlin, who also directed films such as “House Party”, “Boomerang”, “The Ladies Man”, “Marshall”, and “The Black Godfather”. Life is equivalent to a person’s sports career. It has its ups and downs, but with enough support and determination, it can lead to some satisfying rewards. Once again, we had another original film that premiered on Disney+, and it’s based on a football player that I’m unfamiliar with. Oh joy. The folks at Disney are no strangers to fact-based sports dramas, especially the ones that involve football, as they have made plenty of them during the 2000s. Those include “Remember the Titans”, “Miracle”, “Glory Road”, and “Invincible”, just to name a few, all of which are available to watch on Disney+ as of this writing. Who knew Mickey Mouse is into sports? This film sees the Mouse House returning to its usual roots and attempting to provide another dose of family-friendly sports action and sentimental drama. Was it able to score a touchdown or two? Let’s head on down to the field and find out.
Based on a true story, the film centers on a young man named Ray McElrathbey (Reeves), who attends Clemson University to play college football. Things get complicated when his mother Tonya (Warren) has been sent to rehab to deal with her drug addiction, resulting in Ray deciding to take care of his younger brother Fahmarr (Mixson). Ray is now put to the ultimate test as he struggles to keep his dream alive while secretly taking care of his brother on campus. I’m familiar with a few famous football players, such as Brett Farve, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and even Vince Papale, who was portrayed by Mark Wahlberg in the 2006 film “Invincible”. However, there are also a lot of football players that left me with a huge question mark, and Ray McElrathbey, who played for the Clemson Tigers, is one of them. I had absolutely no idea who Ray was until I watched the film myself, mostly due to the fact that I haven’t watched college football at all. Heck, I didn’t even know his whole story that took place outside of the football field. I guess that’s why I was so interested in the film to begin with. To see that story unfold and learn more about that person despite some of the changes it made for dramatic purposes. You might be thinking that this is yet another underdog story, but truth be told, it’s actually not. This is the film that deals with family adversity, including drug addiction and the struggles of balancing college life with the responsibility of taking care of someone, especially a family member. Keep in mind that this came from the same studio that made your favorite animated classics like “The Lion King” and “The Little Mermaid”. While the film didn’t exactly delve deep into those topics due to its PG-rated restrictions (gotta make it accessible for the kids somehow), it was still able to deliver the dramatic chops and the charm that the other Disney sports dramas have been known for. It’s easy to admit that it checked off every box on the studio’s “Hollywood Sports Film” list, such as the sports action and the main character overcoming obstacles on and off the field. However, it did it in a way that’s more tolerable and thoughtful than overly corny like a Hallmark television film. It had its cheesy moments, yes, but they’re suitably overshadowed by its sense of charm and inspiration thanks to Reginald Hudlin’s direction. Not only was Hudlin able to make the dramatic sequences highly watchable, but he also balanced them well with the humorous moments and the football moments. Sadly, there was only one scene involving an actual football game, which may disappoint plenty of people who wanted to watch a bunch of football sequences. On the plus side, that scene was well-executed due to its sound editing and its energetic flair. Jay Reeves, who is known for his supporting role in the CW series “All American”, took center stage as he was given the challenge to portray Ray McElrathbey in a respectable light, and for the most part, he delivered. He had a good amount of charisma and chemistry with the other actors to fit into the shoes of a likable, yet vulnerable, character. Thaddeus J. Mixson also did pretty well in his acting debut as Fahmarr, while James Badge Dale offered some solid acting chops as Coach Brad Simmons. What I also liked about the film was that it wasn’t afraid to showcase a freshman’s experience with time management in a university in terms of balancing school work with taking part in a sport and their personal life. It’s far from a perfect representation, but I think it works well as a learning tool for kids to learn about life as a college student…if they’re into that type of stuff, of course.
Overall, it may not have taken its themes even further, but “Safety” was able to tackle its way to the winner’s circle by providing an inspiring and well-told story about the importance of family and teamwork. Despite its formulaic elements and a couple of corny moments, the film is another enjoyable addition to the Disney sports collection thanks to its likable cast, Hudlin’s respectable direction, and its old-fashioned sense of charm. It’s actually quite amazing to see someone like Ray do the impossible in order to keep his family together. I honestly didn’t think that his story was going to be that important, but it was able to prove me wrong, and I’m glad that it did. I really hope that Ray’s story continues to inspire a lot of people to do the same for their own families, and I hope that Ray and his family, wherever they are, continue to have a brighter future. If you’re a fan of feel-good sports dramas, especially the ones from Disney, this film is worth checking out on Disney+.