The Austin Chronicle

The Family Man

Rated R, 125 min. Directed by Brett Ratner. Starring Nicolas Cage, Téa Leoni, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Piven, Saul Rubinek, Josef Sommer, Harve Presnell, Mary Beth Hurt.

REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Dec. 22, 2000

Hollywood sure loves to teach magnificent bastards the true meaning of Christmas, and The Family Man is this week's lesson, sweeter than an intravenous glycogen drip and roughly as invasive. Jack Campbell (Cage) is the kind of voracious Manhattan financier who spends Christmas Eve brokering “the largest merger in U.S. corporate history,” bedding a fashionably neurasthenic model, and peeling out from a series of curbs in his Ferrari. He scarcely recalls the fateful night 13 years ago when he said adieu to college sweetheart Kate (Leoni) at the airport, preferring a high-powered internship to her spontaneous marriage proposal. Enter Don Cheadle, a mysterious stranger who's pulling a lottery swindle at the convenience store where Jack stops for a $5 eggnog after work. Cheadle has such mad urban flava that Jack doesn't recognize him at first as what Christopher John Farley, writing in Time, recently called the “Magical African American Friend,” or MAAF -- an earthy black guy who selflessly facilitates the miraculous emotional transformation of a top-billed white matinee idol. (Think: The Legend of Bagger Vance and The Green Mile). With a sprinkling of iridescent prop snow and a twinkling of the Danny Elfman score, Jack's new pal whisks him into a “glimpse” of what his life would have been like if he'd married Kate 13 years ago. It's a Hollywood executive's vision of middlebrow suburban squalor, which will likely seem posh to those actually living it: food courts teeming with funnel cakes, bowling buddy Jeremy Piven, cherubic children from Central Casting, and a four-bedroom spread in Teaneck (somehow paid for with a job selling steel-belted radials). Fish-out-of-water gags ensue as Jack changes a diaper (seen in unnecessarily squishy detail) and figures out how to drive the minivan to day care. The buffed-out Cage couldn't be farther from his more genuinely endearing, weirdo performance as a recalcitrant new dad in Raising Arizona, but he's at least got the star presence to anchor the flyweight story, serving up slabs of movie-star ham in his early scenes and heaping helpings of earnest Capra-corn in the later ones. Dante Spinotti's classy cinematography gives the production a nice sheen, but it still seems fresh from the focus group. Since this is a Brett Ratner (Rush Hour) movie, it's got enough interracial buddy hijinks, zippy sports cars, and cheesecake shots of pricey booze and a skanky neighbor's polyester cleavage to keep masculine multiplexers engaged. Meanwhile, Cage woos the feisty Leoni tenderly enough to melt the loins of the soccer-mom crowd. At the same time, it's a holiday film Joe Lieberman could love, unembarrassed by its wholesome, sugary pro-family message.

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