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New Line Home Cinema presents
Safe Passage (1994)

"I had too many children. I was asking for trouble."
- Margaret Singer (Susan Sarandon)

Review By: David Krauss   
Published: May 05, 2004

Stars: Susan Sarandon, Sam Shepard, Robert Sean Leonard, Nick Stahl, Jason London, Marcia Gay Harden, Sean Astin
Director: Robert Allan Ackerman

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for for a scene of marijuana use and limited vulgar language
Run Time: 01h:37m:56s
Release Date: April 06, 2004
UPC: 794043694325
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

With the U.S. battling terrorism, American troops facing death in Iraq, and Mother's Day just around the corner, it's no wonder New Line dredged up the 1994 home front drama Safe Passage for a DVD release. After all, what patriotic mother wouldn't be interested in the story of a fractured family awaiting word of their Marine son's fate after a terrorist bombing in the Sinai Peninsula? The plot may not be ripped from today's headlines, but it nonetheless possesses striking parallels to our current international situation. Yet despite a fine performance by Susan Sarandon, and an accomplished supporting cast that includes Sam Shepard, Marcia Gay Harden, Robert Sean Leonard, and Sean Astin, this sappy film plays more like a weepy movie-of-the-week than the richly textured, big-screen domestic drama it aspires to be. And not even the luminous Sarandon can overcome the mediocre material.

The actress portrays Margaret Singer, an obsessive, over-protective mother, who awakens in a panic after a "premonition dream" involving one of her seven sons. (That's right, seven!) Throughout the following morning, she searches for clues that might tip her off as to which boy might be in danger, but concrete conclusions elude her. Margaret's estranged husband Patrick (Shepard), who battles a mysterious affliction that causes him to go temporarily blind in times of stress (that's right, blind!), dismisses her concern, but a TV news bulletin confirms Margaret's worst fears when she learns the military camp where son Percival (Matt Keeslar) is stationed has been rocked by a massive explosion. Officials say it might take days to sift through the rubble and find survivors, so Margaret and Patrick summon home their other sons and hunker down as they ponder Percival's uncertain fate.

During those long hours, they try to cope, but memories of Percival (shown in overly gushy flashbacks) conjure up old conflicts and inspire bitter recriminations. Underwhelming revelations, contrived expressions of rage, and a neat and tidy denouement that even a five-year-old could predict follow, interrupted by episodes of awkward, off-kilter comedy that rarely ring true.

Other hard-to-swallow elements abound. For instance, why do all the TVs in the Singer household still have a channel dial in the tech-savvy 1990s? Huddling around their prehistoric set, the brood resembles the Waltons listening to one of FDR's fireside chats as they breathlessly wait for a news update to interrupt the not-so-subtle symbolism of a Make Room for Daddy rerun. Don't these people get CNN, for crying out loud?

Although Margaret constantly professes to be the world's lousiest mom, only the most cynical viewers wouldn't crown her mother-of-the-year by the time the closing credits roll. She may deserve the honor, but Robert Allan Ackerman's heavy-handed film so blatantly steers us to that conclusion, it's tough not to revolt against it. At first, we view the Singer family (and Margaret especially) as endearingly quirky, but Deena Goldstone's trite script quickly becomes mired in the characters' tics and idiosyncrasies, and in the process loses the story's focus. Patrick's "blindness" is such an obvious metaphor and so clumsily played it further alienates the audience, while a few of the sons merely wander through the film like extras, populating scenes without contributing to them.

Sarandon does her best with a tough role, but even her natural warmth and expressive eyes can't soften the script's artificial tone. Shepard plays virtually the same part in every film, and here his one-note acting style compliments his one-note character. Leonard and Astin are given little to do, and the marvelous Harden is wasted as Leonard's older lover.

Safe Passage takes some risks, but they wind up backfiring, and the film's saccharine tone and mechanical emotions overshadow its few honest, affecting moments. Its DVD release, however, at last puts this movie where it should have been all along—on television.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: New Line nicely renders this widescreen anamorphic transfer, with just enough grain to provide a true film-like feel. At times, the image looks a little murky, but colors possess fine depth and details are strong. Fleshtones lean toward the rosy side, but sharpness and shadow detail are quite good, and no print blemishes mar the presentation.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The DD 5.1 track sounds more like Dolby stereo than surround sound, but the audio remains clear and clean throughout. Slight separation can be detected across the front channels, and the track possesses a warm fullness of tone and solid presence. I didn't hear a peep out of the rear speakers (despite several opportunities for ambient effects), and the subwoofer was silent, too. Not surprising, considering the talky nature of Safe Passage, but more of a surround feel might more fully involve viewers in the on-screen action. Dialogue, however, is always easily comprehendible.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 23 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Proof, i am sam, My Family, Once Were Warriors
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: A few trailers are the only included supplements.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Even the lovely and talented Susan Sarandon can't provide Safe Passage for viewers of this drab, run-of-the-mill domestic drama. Mothers of servicemen will probably empty their Kleenex boxes watching it, but don't raid the family kitty for the rental fee—the film will certainly turn up on Lifetime soon enough. Travel at your own risk.


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