Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 2:05 - Released 12/22/00

The Family Man is one of those holiday feel-good romance movies designed to make us all understand the reason for the season, appreciate those around us, and stop whining about selling out our dreams all those years ago. A curious mixture of A Christmas Carol and It's A Wonderful Life, it features a cold millionaire who is shown what his life would be like if he had chucked it all and married his college girlfriend rather than leaving her to pursue the almighty dollar. The film would be much more effective if it had someone in it to inspire the desired sentiment, but Nicolas Cage is hard pressed to register any real emotion, and Téa Leoni isn't much better. There is no chemistry between the two, and one wonders why their characters would have ever been together in the first place, let alone get back together.

Jack Campbell (Cage) is as cold a mercinary as there ever has been, who runs a Wall Street investment firm called P.K. Lassiter. The fact that tomorrow is Christmas doesn't deter him from closing a major deal, and expecting all his employees to be there, too. "After tomorrow, every day will be like Christmas," he says amid the cynical protests of his co-workers. But on the way home, Jack meets a man he takes to be a homeless criminal (Don Cheadle), who tells him that something is about to happen, and that Jack brought it on himself. Jack goes to bed alone, a millionaire with a Ferrari and a huge deluxe apartment in Manhattan, and wakes up Christmas morning a middle class tire salesman in suburban New Jersey with a lovely wife snoring beside him, a crappy minivan parked outside, and a couple of screaming kids jumping on his bed. Basically, he turns into me.

Jack's wife is Kate (Leoni), his former girlfriend whom he deserted at an airport 13 years ago. Although he is mightily confused by the situation, she acts as if they've been married for years, and the children call him "Daddy." Determined to find out what's going on, he runs outside and drives to his office only to find the place closed for Christmas. Rudely rebuffed by his doorman and receptionist, he meets up again with Cheadle's character (driving Jack's Ferrari), who tells him that he has been afforded a "glimpse" of what his life could have been. As days turn into weeks, Jack learns that while his salary is a pathetic fraction of his former wealth, he is surrounded by family and friends who love him dearly, although Kate is quite confused by his erratic behavior and his preschool daughter Annie (Makenzie Vega) is convinced he's an alien. Just as he is beginning to notice how lovely Kate has become and how precious his children can be, he is approached by the mystery man again and told that he must return to his previous life.

This film is written by David Diamond & David Weissman and directed by Brett Ratner (Rush Hour), a creative team with precious little experience behind them. Perhaps this inexperience is a partial explanation as to why the film is no more engaging than it is. The lack of connection between the two stars is buffered somewhat by the sheer cuteness of the young Vega and the baby boy who plays her little brother, and a notable supporting performance by Jeremy Piven as Jack's supportive friend and bowling buddy. But Cage's delivery of the Big Final Speech is strained and uncomfortable, and the film's ending is unsatisfying, offering a conflicted message and only a meager chance of hope. ***½

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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