[Screen It]


(2020) (Jay Reeves, Thaddeus J. Mixson) (PG)

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Drama: A college freshman tries to balance school, football, and secretly taking care of his younger brother on campus.

It's 2006 and Ray McElrathbey (JAY REEVES) is an incoming freshman at Clemson where he's received a full athletic scholarship to play safety for football coaches Tommy Bowden (MATTHEW GLAVE) and Brad Simmons (JAMES BADGE DALE). They demand he give it his all during training, fully aware of academic workloads and having to contend with upperclassman players such as Keller (MILES BURRIS) not giving him or Ray's roommate and kicker, Daniel Morelli (HUNTER SANSONE), any slack until they've earned it.

But Ray has other issues he must simultaneously deal with, namely a mother who's in prison and then drug rehab back in Atlanta, meaning his 11-year-old brother, Fahmarr (THADDEUS J. MIXSON), has no guardian and is repeatedly getting into trouble. With their dad long gone from the picture and with no one else to turn to, Ray decides -- with Daniel's permission -- to sneak Fahmarr into his dorm room and keep him hidden until his mom's stint in rehab is up.

All of which puts a great deal of pressure on Ray, something his coaches notice, as does Ray's classmate and potential girlfriend, Kaycee Stone (CORINNE FOXX), who works in the bookstore and does TV interviews for the school. With Ray burning the candle on both ends -- and in the middle -- he tries to balance school, football, hanging out with Kaycee, and taking care of his brother without anyone learning about the latter.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10

I often wonder about the origins of common phrases. For example, "Hair of the dog that bit you." I'd be a bit more concerned about the teeth of such a canine, but who knows, maybe there's something about the hair. Then there's "Cool as a cucumber." If they've been in the fridge or it's chilly outside, sure. But that applies to most everything.

Others make more sense, such as "Burning a candle at both ends" as a cautionary statement. After all, the candle will only last half as long, and you're going to be burned sooner than normal regardless of whether you're holding that in the middle or at one of the lit ends.

I thought about the candle burning bit while watching "Safety," a winning drama based on the real-life story of Ray McElrathbey, a college football player who wasn't just burning the candle at both ends. No, he cut that candle in half and then again, and then inserted multiple wicks on all the resultant pieces and lit them up.

Back in 2006, he was a redshirt freshman on the Clemson football team. Yes, playing ball while going to college is an arduous task, but plenty of student-athletes have done that. Not many, however, have had to contend with their drug addict mothers entering rehab, thus forcing the young adult to become the parent, so to speak, of his 11-year-old brother...on campus.

His tale now arrives in this film that's debuting on Disney+ in the heart of the college and pro football seasons and should play well to fans of that sport as well as those who like family dramas where the protagonist must overcome various obstacles.

In the pic that's directed by Reginald Hudlin from a script by Randy McKinnon and Nick Santora -- where, natch, artistic liberties have taken here and there to streamline the story elements -- Jay Reeves plays Ray, a gifted safety who's been recruited to play for Clemson by Assistant Coach Simmons (James Badge Dale). He quickly learns that there are no shortcuts to success on the field or in real-life as a young adult and that self-sacrifice is what helps in both matters.

It's not long before he learns that his mother (Amanda Warren) has been back in jail for possession and is now headed off to rehab, meaning 11-year-old Fahmarr (Thaddeus J. Mixson) no longer has any sort of adult supervision (at least of the good kind). Removing him from a scenario where he's hanging out with the decidedly wrong crowd, Ray realizes he has no alternative but to take him back to school and hide him in his dorm room, with only his roommate and fellow teammate (Hunter Sansone) being in on the secret.

The only problem is that Fahmarr already has a streetwise attitude and isn't good about following directions, especially of the "don't draw any attention to yourself" variety. And with Ray having to attend classes, go to practice, and try to keep a budding romance with classmate Kaycee (Corinne Foxx) afloat, all while keeping his secret, well, secret from everyone, the candle pieces are burning red hot and melting fast.

Aside from some brief moments where the emotions and related behavior feel forced, sudden, or contrived (as in "you need to act angry at this point"), the performances are good and the film is an engaging and occasionally emotionally moving offering that's all about the importance of family, both in the home and the locker room.

And to having a safety in one's life, be that in family matters or on the field when "the game" is on the line. If anything, it proves that if you're going to have a candle burning in more than one location, you're going to need others to help you hold it. "Safety" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed December 4, 2020 / Posted December 11, 2020

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