The Family Man

Toby Baldwin's Film Review Home

3 out of 10

My wife and I barely finished this, and for once didn't bother with the DVD bonus junk. Even the great Don Cheadle couldn't salvage this generic, bad movie. Come on, Hollywood!

Rating: 3 out of 10.

It seems that 13 years ago our hero Jack (Nicholas Cage) ignored the pleas of his college sweetie Kate (Tea Leoni) and left for London for a one-year internship at some investment firm or the like. Apparently the romance does not survive this separation, because back in the present Jack has become a materialistic, self-centered executive. After encountering Cash (a sadly underused Don Cheadle), who seems to be some kind of Angel, Jack gets a chance (that he doesn't really want) to see what his life had been like if he had stayed with Kate. You can guess the bulk of what follows. I actually kind of liked the way it ended (yes, I actually stayed around for it)--not really surprising, but at least not with all the loose ends tied neatly with a pretty ribbon.

Like many mush-fests, this film features a middle-of-the-road pro-family message that is essentially beyond argument (although the movie handles the message in a ham-handed, sometimes dishonest way--I'll get to that shortly), and yes, I agree that family is more important that money or success (duh!). There are some funny moments here. I thought Don Cheadle electrified the screen during the few moments in which he actually appeared on it.

All the themes here have been done far better before. Check out Mr. Destiny (1990, dir. James Orr, starring James Belushi) for a film that has the protagonist go from the financially unsuccessful life to being given a glimpse of existence as a jet set exec (a glimpse he actually wants) and comes to realize he was better off in his poor but happy life, etc. That movie was consistently funny. The Family Man is sporadically funny. Cage and Leoni both grossly overact at times, especially in angry scenes early in the movie. Leoni doesn't calm down much until the end of the movie - as we watched it, my wife said, "She's kind of a spaz, isn't she?" Uh...yes. Neither her nor Cage are right for their roles. Cage is great at dry sarcasm, but seems either over-the-top or in a coma during much of this one.

In general, too many parts of the movie just don't work. In the 'we sacrificed our futures but we have each other' alternate reality, the emphasis is supposed to be on the sacrifices, but take a look at the house they live in. Looks pretty nice to me; ditto the brand new minivan. Not bad for a 100% pro bono lawyer (a rare or nonexistent bird in reality, I suspect) and a tire store manager. Another misstep is the casting Makenzie Vega as Annie. Her character is the only one who realizes that her Daddy has been replaced by someone else (as if anyone not lobotomized wouldn't be able to tell!), and she's mainly around to mispronounce her r's and generally be too precious for words...and the results are worse than having that kid in Ron Howard's The Grinch try to sing. Shudder!

You may like this film if you need a mindless, "safe" movie, or have inordinate fervor for one of the actors (excepting Cheadle--his role is too small to make this one worth it for his fans) and/or your standards for comedy or schmaltz aren't very high. (Just don't rent it as a new release for $3.25, then return it less than an hour late like I did, and ended up paying $6.50 for a movie my wife and I barely had the willpower to finish...#@$%&!).

I don't think you'll want to bother with this one if you've seen any of the superior 'alternate life' predecessors, such as the aforementioned "Mr. Destiny" or even Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. Unfortunately, The Family Man doesn't approach (much less go beyond) what these earlier films accomplished, and doesn't hold a candle to them for comedy or high-quality schmaltz. Also, don't see this if glaring gaps in plot and characters bother you, or if you don't like bad acting, and so on. For pete's sake don't go into this one with your brain engaged! And it's hard to turn your brain off and just enjoy when the film in front of you isn't funny or even interesting.

The movie looks pretty good. Again, the actors aren't handled well, and have been better in other films. The pacing is slow, especially at the beginning, and though it does pick up some later, I can't say there's a worthwhile payoff. Some gimmicks are used to show shifts in reality, such as the snowstorm (a direct ripoff of--or is that meant as an homage to--It's a Wonderful Life), but by and large this one is devoid of subtle touches. Brett Ratner has done well with straight-up comedy (Rush Hour); he clearly doesn't have the touch for the overtly sentimental.

Oh yeah, Danny Elfman's score is pretty good.

Worth renting? Not in my estimation.
Worth buying? Only for the very cheesy at heart.
Suitable for kids? Mostly, I think, if they have a high boredom threshold.
Year: 2000
Director: Brett Ratner
Running Time: 125 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sensuality and some language.

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Review Copyright 2003 by Toby Baldwin

Originally written July 20, 2001.

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