Director Reginald Hudlin takes on the real-life tale of American football player Ray McElrathbey, who inspired a generation of people.
'Safety' is based on real-life events which took place in South Carolina around the year 2006. Attending Clemson Athletics college under an American football scholarship, Ray (Jay Reeves) plays the position of "safety" at a college team where sports are their bread and butter. However, his scholarship is thrown into doubt as his single mother goes into a rehab centre, and his younger brother Fahmarr (Thaddeus J. Mixson II) is left at home without a family member to look after him. Ray makes the ultimate sacrifice and decides that his brother will not go into foster care, and instead, he will be his sole guardian while on campus grounds. What ensues is Ray's attempt to juggle college life (football, study, romance) and family life all at once.
Given that 'Safety' is one of those Disney family sports movies, it does follow that bog-standard underdog formula: the main character faces challenges - they attempt to overcome said challenges - everything looks like it will crumble - and then everything begins to look up. Reginald Hudlin, who directed 'House Party' and 'Boomerang' in the past did the best that he could while being enveloped within that Disney+/family viewing constraint. It makes for some wholesome viewing, sure. But it doesn't set it apart from all of the other sports movies we've seen in the past.
There are some comical and touching moments scattered throughout 'Safety', but it tends not to deviate too much from being a typical college drama story. The acting can be stiff at times from the younger cast, but Reeves impresses for the most part as the star of the show; Mixson plays the troubled younger brother well, while Hunter Sansone as Ray's friend Daniel beings the comedy.
Being a Disney creation, one can't help but feel like the subject matter of the movie could have benefitted from aiming itself at a slightly older audience than what we have here. We get what Disney and Hudlin are trying to do - to inspire younger viewers. Fair enough, the real-life happenings are truly heartening, there's no denying that. But when the movie includes such heavy topics as a drug-addicted mother, a struggling Freshman college student, a young, troubled child, and a romantic relationship, it feels like a lot of the real storyline might have been left out this tale. Sure, 'Safety' makes for some wholesome viewing, but it could have been that bit edgier.
What we have here is the Disney take on the life of Ray McElrathbey, an inspiring story, but feels like it could have had a bit more bite to it. In truth, 'Safety' lives up to its name, playing it "safe" for the most part.