Family Man, The (2000) **
Director, Brett Ratner. Writers, David Diamond, David Weissman. Photography, Sante Spinotti. Editing, Mark Helfrich. Production design, Kristi Zea. Music, Danny Elfman. Cast: Nicolas Cage, Tea Leoni, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Piven, Saul Rubinek, et al. A Universal release. 125 minutes. PG-13.
Another Opera (with suds). Its Overture.is in 1977 at Kennedy Airport. Jack (Cage) is off to a one-year internship in a major London bank. The camera focuses on him and his girl Kate. (Leoni) as the mike picks up their gloppy kisses in surround-sound stereo. Kate has premonitions, begs Jack not to leave--but he does.
Jump ahead 13 years. Kate is out of the picture. Jack is a mover-shaker on Wall Street, Ferrari-driving, chic, fast-talking, authoritarian. He's called a meeting on Christmas eve to finalize a financial coup.
Next morning, he wakes up in his regal apartment with a beautiful call girl at his side. She departs. He greets the day joyfully, bellowing atrociously the aria "La Donna e mobile," selecting his suit from a enormous collection of priced-through-the-roof outfits.
Later he goes to a convenience store in which bum-like Cash (Don Cheadle.) irrupts to redeem his winning lottery ticket. Accused of having doctored it he goes wild, pulls out a gun. Jack intervenes and makes a deal with Cash. (Cheadle is very good, as is the whole sequence). The bellicose fellow will turn out to be a sort of angel whose mission is to give Jack the chance to see what other road he might have taken.
The morning after Jack wakes up in a tatty house in a New Jersey suburb.. It is his house, complete with wife of 13 years Kate ( hardly aged) and kids. He labors at his father-in-law's tire store, consorts with working-class people, has a K-Mart. wardrobe. etc. Is this a fall from grace?
The Family Man's schlock for the holidays is a feelgood fantasy in the lineage of excellent movies like It's a Wonderful Life, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, the latter's remake Heaven Can Wait (with Warren Beatty), plus a slew of others, some good some bad. The genre is crowd-pleasing but tricky to make and as delicate as thin crystal.
Hours before this movie's preview I had watched Cocteau's enchanting Beauty and the Beast which has its own, its fairy-tale logic. But The Family Man is a juggling act, awkward, often trite, with a plot that keeps painting itself into corners. The screenwriters must have had long bull-sessions about what to do next (which is a mess) and how to wrap things up (which is even messier).
Jack, conscious of both his lives, hates everything about his "new" one and his semi-blue collar existence. Yet this milieu of "little people" is supposed to be a good life, while that of the tycoons is bad.
Story holes come in avalanches. Just one example. Kate is a low-income lawyer with social consciousness. She does pro bono (uncompensated) work for those in need. But since both she and Jack graduated from Law School, whatever turned him into a tire salesman?
You can bet your life that Jack will falling love with Kate and the kids. But then he wants to have his cake and eat it, which tangles matters artificially and makes our suspension of disbelief grow exponentially.
There are some good (and/or funny) bits, including the couple's young daughter who thinks that Jack is not her father but an alien clone--shades of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Lite). But the tortuous plot and deja vu, by-the-numbers performances, are more for viewers who think "movies" rather than "cinema." --and that's not a snobbish remark. Cheadle's role is much too short and vague. Nicolas Cage is an actor I like, but I have the feeling that he has accepted too many roles that encourage a sameness in performing them. Here, in a variant of the (apocryphal?) judgment for Fred Astaire's first screen test, the verdict might be: "Can't sing. Can't dance. Can act a little."
On the other hand, Tea Leoni does grace the picture. There's a chance connection with her first ever role, in Switch, where a man dies and returns to earth as a woman. Leoni's was a bit part. Small roles followed in A League of their Own and others. Then she was third-billed in Flirting with Disaster" and second-billed in Deep Impact. The predictable mass appeal of The Family Man will make her a star. But for my money, I'll stick to my favorite holidays movie, A Christmas Story.