Imagine how Jerry Lewis might have remade "It's a Wonderful Life" and you'll have a sense of what "Mr. Destiny" is like. And while you're at it you can toss in bits of "The Natural," "Back to the Future" and "The Best of Times."
The premise is this: Larry (James Belushi), a lower-echelon executive with a sporting goods firm, can't get it out of his head that if he hadn't struck out in the last inning of his high school's championship game his life might be vastly different. It's not that his current circumstances are all that bad. He has a wife (Linda Hamilton) who loves him; good friends, like his old elementary school pal and office-mate, Clip (Jon Lovitz); and even a faithful dog. But he's not getting any younger -- it's his 35th birthday -- and his days are, well, numbingly routine and fast getting worse.
Enter Mike (Michael Caine), the proprietor of a corner pub called The Universal Joint, who serves him up a little concoction of his own called Spilt Milk, which has the magical effect of plunging Larry into his life as it would have been if he had won the game. Quite predictably, the benefits of this new life aren't all he imagined. Sure, it's great being the president of the firm, grotesquely rich and married to the beautiful daughter of the company's owner, but Larry isn't really cut out for the life of a pampered swell. He's more beer and pretzels than champagne and caviar.
Belushi, in fact, looks as if his diet consists entirely of beer and pretzels, but he brings a shlubby sense of decency to his role of a tract-home Jimmy Stewart. For some reason he seems less like a real-life Fred Flintstone than usual here, and his natural thickheadedness helps keep the pathos in director James Orr and Jim Cruikshank's script from being overwhelming. This is his most likable performance.
The other actors, too, give their parts a touch of mad inspiration, especially Lovitz and, as the company's milquetoasty owner, Bill McCutcheon. Caine, on the other hand, merely shows up, and though his nonchalance is winning and he demonstrates what a polished pro he is, he shows little else.
The real problem with the picture is that it borrows too much from other films to stand as anything on its own. In addition, it presents a great number of painfully old jokes -- such as a scene in which this man-of-the-people orders dinner in a tony French restaurant and has calves' brains brought to his table -- as if they were freshly minted. And the middle section of the film, in which Larry tries to adjust to his predicament, isn't nearly as rewarding as the much funnier opening scenes had led us to hope for. Overall, what "Mr. Destiny" turns out to be is mildly sweet and amusing -- not a wonderful life, but merely an okay one.
Mr. Destiny, at area theaters, is rated PG-13.