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The Family Sham

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 22, 2000


    'The Family Man' Nicolas Cage gets touched by angel Don Cheadle in "The Family Man."
(Barry Wetcher/Universal)
"The Family Man" is nothing more, or less, than a cheap, dirty grab at our Christmas spirit, accompanied by those movie ads – full of accolades from critical pinheads.

"A New Christmas Classic Is Born!" trumpets Jan Wolf of NBC-TV.

"Touching, soulful and hilarious!" exclaims Mark S. Allen of UPN-TV.

Puh-leez. While "Family Man" isn't "Battlefield Earth," it certainly isn't "It's a Wonderful Life," the Hollywood classic that this Universal Pictures release desperately tries to imitate. In "Family Man," James Stewart, I mean, Nicolas Cage plays Jack Campbell, an investment banker who rules Wall Street like a ninja. He even works on Christmas Eve to make more money. And although he has no family to speak of, he does have this expensive little hooker in mind for his Christmas cheer.

"You're a credit to capitalism," coos one of his admiring associates.

Everyone, arrange yourselves into carol-singing formations, stand outside Jack's impossibly expensive Manhattan apartment and hiss. Now you're getting it.

When we first meet Jack, 13 years before this, we see the critical crossroads in his life that led him here. Heading to London on a promising banking internship, he's at the airport, saying goodbye to his sweetheart, Kate (Tea Leoni and not Helen Hunt). She wants him to stay. She has this feeling they'll never get back together again. But he goes, just the same. Whattaguy.

Kate was right. Here he is, all these years later, making money all over the place. Kate's a distant memory. In fact, when she calls out of the blue, he blows her off.

Time for a Hollywood intervention.

The predictable angel (Don Cheadle) gives Jack one of those extended second chances, a whole lifetime with Kate – the one he could have had, if only they'd stuck together. Jack wakes up in a different world: a New Jersey suburb where he sells tires and lives with two screaming kids and the lovely Kate for a wife.

"Where's my Ferrari?" asks Jack, trying to run away.

Touching, soulful, hilarious!

Will Jack learn to love bad clothes and bowling nights with his true pals (including Jeremy Piven)? When will he wake up, walk the dog and learn to smell Mr. Coffee? Oh boy, we've got so much to endure and the movie's barely begun!

Director Brett Ratner, who made "Rush Hour," doesn't do more than steer this conventional soul-cleansing from beginning to end. Cage is left to do his damndest to entertain us through the tedium. He's the only thing on display, and it's not enough to appreciate his uncanny resemblance to Stewart, his obvious hair weave and his ability to come up with an unexpectedly funny expression or two. If I were his angel, I'd lean close to his ear and sweetly whisper: "Why not make it easier on yourself, Nic? Don't seek a better life, seek a better movie."

"The Family Man" (PG-13, 125 minutes) – Contains sexual situations, strong language and a nude stunt-babe in the shower.


Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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