Although I quibbled with some of Entertainment Weekly's choices for its 50 Best Movies You've Never Seen, a recent feature that has gotten more publicity than I thought it would, one I can't quibble with after seeing it on Friday night is Safe Men, a 1998 safecracker comedy from writer-director John Hamburg. I don't know about "best," but it's certainly pretty delightful, and I certainly hadn't seen it.
In fact, it's kind of a surprise this film doesn't have a higher profile considering some of the stars it begat.
It's not that the actors appearing in this movie hadn't previously had careers. But most of them were just on the verge of hitting it big, and if I had seen this movie when it was first released, it would have been my first exposure to some of them.
Let's consider it:
Plays: Sam, a would-be professional singer who can't hold a tune and performs at retirement homes, who is mistaken for a world-class safecracker
First film: Clownhouse (1989, Victor Salva)
First time I became aware of him: Galaxy Quest (1999, Dean Parisot). "Is there air? You don't know!!"
Since: Charlie's Angels, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Matchstick Men, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Moon, Iron Man 2, Cowboys & Aliens
Plays: Eddie, the other half of the delusional singing duo, whose father coincidentally happens to have been an actual safecracker
First film: Rain Without Thunder (1992, Gary O. Bennett)
First time I became aware of him: Not 100% sure if I recognized his contribution in Reality Bites (1994, Ben Stiller), but definitely by That Thing You Do! (1996, Tom Hanks)
Since: Out of Sight, You've Got Mail, Stuart Little, Stuart Little 2, Joy Ride, Sahara, Chicken Little, Sunshine Cleaning
Plays: Veal Chop, a low-level Providence gangster (referred to as the "intern" to a senior gangster) who assumes, based on circumstantial evidence, that Sam and Eddie are the safecrackers he's looking for
First film: Past Midnight (1991, Jan Eliasberg)
First time I became aware of him: Private Parts (1997, Betty Thomas) -- who could forget Pig Vomit?
Since: Man on the Moon, Planet of the Apes, American Splendor, Sideways, Cold Souls, Win Win, The Ides of March
Plays: Frank, one of the actual safecrackers, who is still in love with his ex-girlfriend (Christina Kirk), Sam's current love interest
First film: Mirror Mirror 2: Raven Dance (1994, Jimmy Lifton)
First time I became aware of him: You Can Count on Me (2000, Kenneth Lonergan)
Since: The Last Castle, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Zodiac, Where the Wild Things Are, Shutter Island, The Kids Are All Right, The Avengers
Plays: LeFlore, a "cleaner" type who comes in at the end to, well, clean things up
First film: Living in Oblivion (1995, Tom DeCillo)
First time I became aware of him: The Station Agent (2003, Tom McCarthy)
Since: Elf, The Baxter, Death at a Funeral, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Ice Age: Continental Drift, Game of Thrones
Note: This is not how Dinklage looks in the film, but this is probably about how old he was. I guess I tested the outer limits of the internet when I tried to find a picture of Peter Dinklage in Safe Men.
Incidentally, all five of these actors are between the ages of 43 and 45.
The film also features Michael Lerner and Harvey Fierstein, but it would be fair to say they were both already established by then -- and haven't done all that much since.
In fact, the one woman in Safe Men -- literally, almost the only woman in the cast -- is the only one who did not go on to greater things. Christina Kirk has worked consistently since then, but the fact that I had to look her up means that she did not go on to have the kind of career she thought she might. She couldn't have been blamed for thinking that this role, as a romantic lead in a small comedy whose male actors were all on the verge of big things, might set her up for her own career of prominent Hollywood showcases. Her wry delivery and undeniable cuteness might suggest she deserved it.
But she did not ultimately have "it," so Kirk has occupied herself in such roles as "party hostess" in Along Came Polly. She has appeared in a couple films I've liked, though: In addition to Polly, she has also appeared in Bug, Melinda and Melinda and Taking Woodstock.
I guess not everybody can become the Incredible Hulk.