The Family Man Review

by "Steve Rhodes" (Steve DOT Rhodes AT InternetReviews DOT com)
December 2nd, 2000

A film review by Steve Rhodes
Copyright 2000 Steve Rhodes
RATING (0 TO ****): ***

Nicolas Cage, as Jack Campbell, the wealthy president of a mergers-and-acquisitions firm, is living La Dolce Vita in his Manhattan penthouse and savoring every minute of it. With $2,400 suits, a lightning-fast Ferrari and his own limo, he has it all, right down to a "closet" that is like an expensive men's clothing boutique.

Well he thinks he has it all until an angry man with a gun (Don Cheadle) interrupts Jack's life to show him a "glimpse" of what he is missing. David Diamond and David Weissman's imaginative script is equal parts SLIDING DOORS, A CHRISTMAS CAROL and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Director Brett Ratner, known for his broad comedy RUSH HOUR, shows that he is capable of surprising subtlety and grace. THE FAMILY MAN is touching and poignant without ever getting anywhere near schmaltz. Even if it's more effective as a romantic drama than a comedy, it does have many wonderfully funny moments.

The story opens at the airport in 1987, where Jack is leaving his college girlfriend Kate (Téa Leoni, DEEP IMPACT) for a one-year internship abroad. Fearing that their relationship will not survive the oceanic separation, she makes a futile, last minute plea for him to stay.

We quickly cut to 13 years later, when it's Christmas Eve. Jack has his troops working on a 120-billion dollar merger deal. His old lover, Kate, has called out of the blue. Jack's chairman (Josef Sommer) advises him not to return the call. "Old flames are like old tax returns," he tells Jack. "Put 'em in a file cabinet for 3 years and then cut 'em loose." Currently with model-quality girlfriends, Jack doesn't seem the least bit interested in ever dialing Kate's number.
The mysterious character played by Don Cheadle shows up, and before Jack knows it, he is "trapped in the suburbs" in a New Jersey house with 4 bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, a partially finished basement, a big slobbering dog, 2 young kids and a wife, Kate. He thinks that he is still rich, but he isn't, and that he really isn't the family man of his new household, but he is. Cage's frozen, wide-eyed expression tells it all about his absolute panic. He is convincingly confused, shocked, lost and scared. Most of all Jack is appalled by the ordinariness of his new lifestyle. A big day for the new Jack is getting treated to a funnel cake at the mall. His new life is almost a complete opposite of everything he has worked for.

In a film about Cage's character, Leoni does a terrific job of not being upstaged by Cage. She takes what could just be a one-dimensional character and gives it depth, tenderness and a playful joy.

The script, wisely, lets only one person, Jack's little daughter Annie (Makenzie Vega), figure out that Jack has changed. In an adorable performance by Vega, Annie decides that Jack is an alien. Still, she is happy to show him the ropes on how to be a father, including how to diaper her brother Josh. One of the biggest laughs comes when Jack leaves Josh at daycare. "Do I get a receipt or something?" he asks at the daycare center as he hands off his son, holding him as if he contained toxic waste.

The big question about the narrative is how the story will circle back once the glimpse is over. With a completely satisfying resolution, the movie leaves you with a warm spot in your heart. A perfect film for the Christmas season, its messages about the meaning of success and the importance of family is presented with straightforward and genuine warmth. An honest picture and a cute one, although not worthy of Christmas classic status, it is rewarding and enjoyable.

THE FAMILY MAN runs 2:04. It is rated PG-13 for sensuality and some language and would be acceptable for kids around 11 and up.

My son Jeffrey, age 11, thought the film was "okay" and gave it **. He complained that he was confused by Cheadle's character. His favorite parts involved the kids and the dog.

The film opens nationwide in the United States on Friday, December 22. In the Silicon Valley it will be showing at the AMC and the Century theaters.

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