The premise (and the tagline) of “The Family Man” is “What if?”, which is a throwback to quite a few other movies, like the little seen “Mr. Destiny” for instance, but in reverse. In that film, James Belushi played a middle class family man who gets a glimpse of what his life would have been like if he had become rich and successful. Here, Nicolas Cage‘s character is rich and successful already. He’s Jack Campbell, hotshot Wall Street business man. He lives in an apartment that looks like a museum, he wears $2000 suits, he drives a Ferrari, he sleeps with model types… He’s sort of a Scrooge, though, the kind of guy who lives just for work and expects his employees to do the same, even on Christmas. The movie has him running though one of those mysterious black strangers (Bagger Vance’s cousin, maybe, played by Don Cheadle) who gives him a glimpse of how his life would have turned out had Campbell not left his college girlfriend Kate (Tea Leoni) to pursue his career. So here he is now, married with children, a tire salesman in New Jersey with a dog, a mini van and a bowling league. Will he realize that it’s the small things that count, not money and success? Does Nic Cage get 20$ millions paychecks?
Ok, so this is kinda corny but hey, it’s a Christmas movie, what do you expect? Plus, it’s so well done that it doesn’t matter that it’s formulaic and not very deep. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there’s nothing wrong with good old Hollywood entertainment when it works, as it does here. The script by David Diamond and David Weissman pushes all the right buttons, and director Brett Ratner keeps it snappy and pretty. When I reviewed his previous two movies, the Chris Tucker action comedies “Money Talks” and “Rush Hour”, I pointed out how it seemed that Ratner didn’t really care about pleasing critics or the Academy. He seems simply interested in making films that people will have fun watching. Such is the case here. The movie looks good (thanks to cinematography by Dante Spinotti) and it sounds good (with music by Danny Elfman) but most of all, it is consistently entertaining, laugh out loud funny at times, touching at others. As for the little Christmas lesson, “love over money” thing, you can’t disagree with that.
One thing that sets “The Family Man” above the usual holiday offering is how strong the performances are. Tea Leoni in particular is surprisingly good. She’s always been gorgeous, but I don’t remember her being so funny, so warm, so… alive. Plus, she’s wonderful with Cage, they really seem to be in love. As for Cage himself, what can I say… Say what you want about his choices of projects, you gotta admit that few actors are consistently this electrifying on screen. Cage never settles for drabness, let’s-just-phone-it-in- and-go-have-a-latte. Watch him as the all-knowing company president, ruling with firmness but gracefully over his universe. Watch him struggle when finally put in a situation he’s not in control of, watch him get all worked up and throwing attitude around. Watch him finally let go and fall in love again with his old college squeeze and become a real dad. And watch him sing too, with oh so much enthusiasm, whether it’s to Verdi’s “La Donna E Mobile from Rigoletto” or to The Delfonics’ syrupy “La La (Means I Love You)”. “The Family Man” isn’t on the level of “It’s A Wonderful Life” or anything, but it’s a perfectly fine, sweet little movie.