A scene from 'The Family Man'
Courtesy Photo
**1/2 stars 124 minutes | Rated: PG-13
Opened: Friday, December 22, 2000
Directed by Brett Ratner

Starring Nicolas Cage, Tea Leoni, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Piven, Amber Valletta, Paul Sorvino & Mary Beth Hurt


Made with an intentional "Christmas classic" bent, this picture should play pretty well on the small screen. Good to watch with the family. But why are they releasing it in July?

   VIDEO RELEASE: 07.17.2001


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Wall St. playboy Cage discovers alternative reality as a suburban 'Family Man' is a wonderful life

By Rob Blackwelder

Nicolas Cage makes a gosh-darn good Jimmy Stewart substitute in "The Family Man," starring as a Wall Street playboy taught a lesson in life priorities when he gets Frank Capra-ed into an alternative suburban reality that includes a wife, kids, a minivan, a mortgage and a job selling tires for his father-in-law.

His performance is superb as Jack Campbell, a toplofty workaholic millionaire of the new economy who is utterly baffled by waking up one morning next to the college sweetheart (Téa Leoni), whom he'd abandoned to pursue his career 13 years before.

How did he get there? Well, after stiff-arming his ornamental girlfriend on Christmas eve and ordering an emergency merger meeting for dinner time the next day, Jack catches the eye of some kind of cryptic seraph (Don Cheadle) by intervening in a convenience store hold up. When he tells Cheadle he has everything he could ever want in life, the busybody celestial spirit decides Jack's karma needs a realignment and sends him whirling into a world of What Might Have Been.

A pleasing, although frequently irrational, hybrid that injects modern sensibilities into an old-fashioned, warm-and-fuzzy Christmastime script, the idea of "The Family Man" is, of course, that Jack eventually finds himself completely contented in a lifestyle long on dirty diapers and decidedly short on $2,400 suits.

His psyche's sentimental and frequently funny journey to happy family man is predictable, underwritten and a bit too easy -- but Cage is so good at the perplexed instant papa routine that he carries the film through all its frailties. His "oh, no!" reactions to the clothes in his closet and the balance in his checkbook are priceless. Even funnier gags arise as Jack's friends assume he's in the throes of a midlife crisis and as his daughter, who recognizes something is amiss, theorizes her dad has been replaced by an alien.

Téa Leoni ("Deep Impact") shines as well in her role as Jack's adoring wife. The way Cage falls for her all over again feels like true love, and she ads credible marital friction and frustration to the inevitable confrontations that ensue as Jack tries to discern where and when his life changed direction so drastically.

But while "Family Man" undeniably burrows its way into the heart, it does so in spite of being boat-anchored by abundant breaches in the script which director Brett Ratner ("Rush Hour") roundly ignores.

Besides common sense gaps that cause the audience to second-guess Jack's thinking in many a scene, we're shown very little of his struggle with domesticity or what it is about his new life that makes him come to love it. But the elephant in the corner of the room is the fact that the angel (or whatever he is) played by Cheadle has no motivation for jerking this guy around.

"Remember, you brought this on yourself," he says just before dropping Jack into this vicarious life the poor guy initially finds torturous. Oh yeah? How'd he do that? Rich Jack didn't seem like such a bad guy. Cheadle shows up again later promising to "explain it all," then does nothing of the sort.

As soon as Jack has realized he's truly happy with home-and-hearth version of his life, Cheadle returns to yank our hero back into his Manhattan mover-and-shaker existence -- making him instantly even more miserable than he was to leave this life in the first place.

The film weasels its way to a somewhat hopeful finale, but I wouldn't call it satisfying by any stretch of the imagination. I spent 30 minutes after the movie formulating a better ending in my own head -- a synthesis of Cage's two lives that could have left everybody smiling when the credits rolled.

But even though I could easily chew up several paragraphs listing this movie's nagging flaws, the fact is, I liked it. Ratner assembles enough small, bright moments of earnest amusement and sweetness to eke out a victory, thanks largely to talents of Cage and Leoni.

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