They say it takes a village to raise a child, but in “Safety,” it takes an entire university campus to do so. Overly sentimental traps line the plot of the film, streaming on Disney+. But it scores points for giving its lead characters complicated situations, emotional depth and political dimension.
Based on a true story, the movie follows the Clemson University freshman football player Ray McElrathbey (Jay Reeves), affectionately called “Ray Ray” by his peers. The ambitious student athlete has a lot on his plate. When his mother (Amanda Warren) goes into addiction recovery, he’s forced to take care of his younger brother, Fahmarr (Thaddeus J. Mixson), housing him in the dorm. With this new task, Ray Ray’s ability to balance family, school, friends and athletics risks being toppled. That’s when his coaches and teammates step in.
“Safety” is, for better, neither a strict sports movie nor a rigid tale of adversity. Banal time management scenes are enlivened by the director Reginald Hudlin’s fun camera swooping and rollicking tumbles as Ray’s life grows dizzyingly busy. Some of the earlier moments in the film, like when Fahmarr hides in increasingly ludicrous spots, have the humor of a heist comedy. And Hudlin intermittently blends in sharp visual gags.
But the film’s touchdown is its sincere questioning of what colleges and universities owe to its students and, more broadly, the community around them. Hudlin transforms a film that would be, in lesser hands, a formulaic hardship-as-aesthetic drama, into an earnest examination of what community means on the field, in the classroom and in our society.
Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 58 minutes. Watch on Disney+.
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