The Family Man Review

by Jon Popick (jpopick AT sick-boy DOT com)
December 10th, 2000

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If you like your movies lengthy, derivative and shockingly predictable, then haul your ignorant ass down to the theatre to see The Family Man, Hollywood’s umpteenth version of a holiday film that shows a soulless central character pulling a Christmas Eve about-face after getting a glimpse of the way things were, could have been, or are going to be. Man, like Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life before it, shows a guy being visited by a ghost/angel who takes the character on a wild ride to show him the error of his ways.
Here, the George Bailey/Scrooge character is Jack Campbell (Nicolas Cage, Gone in 60 Seconds), and our first glimpse of him reveals Jack to be a man with a mission. The scene takes place at an airport in 1987, where Jack is about to depart for a big post-college internship at a top London investment firm. Despite the schmaltzy pleadings of his lawyer-to-be girlfriend Kate (Téa Leoni, Deep Impact), Jack hops on his plane without giving a second thought to what he's leaving behind, opting instead to stake his claim in the business world.

Man then flashes forward 13 years, where the still-single Jack has a penthouse apartment in Manhattan, a Ferrari, a giant closet full of $2,400 suits and a powerful Wall Street job. It’s Christmas Eve, and Jack’s company is set to announce a giant corporate merger on December 26th. This, of course, gives him the opportunity to crack the whip while his employees whimper about not being able to spend the holidays with their families (one is played by Dick’s Saul Rubinek – like he’s suddenly celebrating Christmas).

A strange combination of eggnog, a Lotto ticket and five magic words (“I’ve got everything I need”) triggers the appearance of The Ghost of Christmas What-Could-Have-Been, or, in this case, a gun–wielding angel played by Traffic’s Don Cheadle (which makes Man yet another film where Whitey is shown The Light by a black character). Jack laughs off the encounter until he wakes up on Christmas morning living the life that would have been his if he had stayed in New York with Kate back in ’87.
At this point, Man becomes the third film this year to showcase a character living a life that isn’t really theirs (following Passion of Mind and the much more enjoyable Me Myself I). Jack goes through all of the predictable disbelief you would expect from a man who has gone from a life of luxury to a suburban New Jersey hell with a wife, two kids, a slobbery dog and, worst of all, a job selling tires (retail, no less) for Kate’s father. Like Me Myself I, the only person who notices something rotten in the state of Denmark is one of Jack’s kids – a precocious six-year-old who talks like she’s two.

As you would expect, Jack immediately wants out, but eventually warms to the married life (and who wouldn’t with a wife like Leoni?). The best part of the film isn’t even in the film – the use of Talking Heads’ Once in a Lifetime (“This is not my beautiful house/this is not my beautiful wife”) happens only in Man’s trailer. Every plot development in Man can be seen coming a mile away, and most of the things that work are glossed over and/or cut short. It would have been great to see how Jack got through a day of pretending to know the ins and outs of the tire business instead of watching him change his first poopy diaper, but only the latter made it into the film.

Man’s script, which was written by David Diamond (of the Ice-T/Alyssa Milano “thriller” Below Utopia fame) and David Weissman (Dream a Little Dream 2 – who knew they made a sequel?), is a hackneyed hack-job that leaves many side stories unresolved. What becomes of Jack’s near affair with the comely wife of a friend (played by Lisa Thornhill)? And what’s the deal with Jack’s fat buddy, who is supposed to be having a triple bypass the day after Christmas but is shown bowling instead? My bet is that some things were chopped out of the final cut when test audiences didn’t react favorably to them. Either that, or director Brett Ratner (Rush Hour) is an incredibly bad storyteller. Regardless of the reason, it’s still not good.

In the acting department, Leoni is the clear standout, stealing every scene she shares with Cage. She perfectly embodies her sassy, spunky, satisfied character, and is completely believable in doing so. It’s refreshing to see Cage attempt a role where he isn’t either dark and brooding, or a stupid action hero. That said, he has one of the creepiest smiles in the business.

Man wasn’t more than 30 seconds old before the schmaltz made my eyes roll back in my head. It’s reduced a Frank Capra film to, frankly, crap. I can’t recall a film striving this fervently to be mediocre – nothing more, nothing less. Even the usually reliable Danny Elfman (Sleepy Hollow) provides a surprisingly calculated score. Technically, the highlight is Dante Spinotti’s (Wonder Boys) photography.

People wonder why critics give poor marks to films that infrequent moviegoers might find heartwarming. The answer is simple – we have to sit through three or four of the exact same films every year. Man is one of those films.

2:00 – PG-13 for adult language and brief nudity

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