In his new movie, Nicolas Cage learns that it's a lufrednow life.
"The Family Man" is "It's a Wonderful Life" in reverse. Cage plays, essentially, the Sam Wainwright character from "Wonderful": a soulless Wall Street wonk who is visited by an angel and given a chance to see what his life would be like if, 13 years earlier, he'd chosen his college sweetheart, the suburbs and 2-1/3 kids. Overnight, he goes from hot-and-cold running babes to changing babies' diapers.
It's refreshing to see Cage play a role where he's not jacking cars or thrill-killing. This is the Cage of old, the one who could emphasize one familiar, off-rhythm word to make it sound fresh and meaningful. His quizzical looks and frazzled line readings are perfect -- he has some swell scenes with the two new kids he's suddenly raising -- and Cage is nicely matched by the grounded, quirky acting of Tea Leoni, who plays his wife in the parallel universe.
Wisely, "The Family Man" doesn't spend much time on the supernatural phenomenon that gives Cage a look at an alternate life -- it just happens -- and the movie does a fine job of showing what's attractive about both lifestyles.
Still, the movie sentimentalizes Cage's choices, acting like there's no middle ground between bachelors who run with the bulls in Pamplona and frumpy dads who spend Saturday night with the little woman at the Strike It Rich lanes. The movie takes a condescending attitude toward suburbia, as if no one there dresses with style or knows who Willem de Kooning is, and toward Wall Street, as if there isn't a single nice person in Lower Manhattan.
That condescending quality really begins to drag on the movie near the end, when you realize how familiar the story is. The movie has intelligent dialogue and fine lead performances, but it could use a few supporting characters to distract us from the fact that, at every minute, we know exactly what will happen next.
THE FAMILY MAN
Directed by: Brett Ratner
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Tea Leoni
Rated: PG-13, mostly for sex scenes
SHOULD YOU GO? You can get the same thing, better, from "It's a Wonderful Life" (and, by the way, "Family Man" is sadder and less slapsticky than it appears in the ads).
(c) 2000, Saint Paul Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.).
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