Dir: Brett Ratner. US. 2000. 120 mins.
Prod cos: Beacon, Universal Pictures. Domestic dist: Universal Pictures. Exec prods: Armyan Bernstein, Thomas A Bliss, Andrew Z Davis. Prods: Marc Abraham, Zvi Howard Rosenman, Tony Ludwig, Alan Riche. Scr: David Diamond, David Weissman. DoP: Dante Spinotti. Prod des: Kristi Zea. Ed: Mark Helfrich. Music: Danny Elfman. Main cast: Nicolas Cage, Tea Leoni, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Piven.
It's A Wonderful Life meets A Christmas Carol meets Sliding Doors meets any number of other "second chance" fantasies you can think of in The Family Man. Wholly unoriginal in concept and unsurprising in its execution, this slick, forgettable romantic comedy can expect moderate box-office domestically from thirtysomething couples in search of lightweight but adult holiday entertainment. International audiences may have less of a taste for this peculiarly American brand of schmaltz.
A clumsy prologue details the tearful airport parting of college sweethearts Kate (Leoni) and Jack (Cage), who has been offered a prestigious year's internship at a London bank. Cut to 13 years later: as Kate feared, the couple have long since lost touch and Jack has become a high-flying corporate raider leading a lavish, if lonely celibate lifestyle. Christmas Eve finds him insisting, Scrooge-like, that his Wall Street colleagues toil through the holidays, until an encounter with a mysterious tramp (Cheadle) results in his waking up the following morning in suburban New Jersey with Kate and their two children at his side.
At first he's understandably horrified by this taste of what his life might have been: one of the film's strengths is that it doesn't sentimentalise Jack's alternative universe but shows the full ghastliness of his new shopping mall wardrobe, money pressures and dead-end job. Cage, always at his best when portraying men on the edge, and Ratner (whose last film, Rush Hour, established a flair for comedy) extract a good deal of humour from these early scenes.
As The Family Man sobers up into an old-fashioned family values picture, it becomes less diverting. Leoni gives a spirited account of herself in a tricky role, but there isn't too much chemistry between her and Cage, and the screenplay meanders into a tangle of under-developed subplots and supporting characters before arriving at its long-overdue conclusion.