By Susannah Breslin | December 24, 2000

If you find utterly unbearable the thought of sitting through yet another one of the recent chick-flick releases or suffering through yet another two-hour rumination on what-happens-to-one-guy, Family Man provides an innocuously pleasant alternative. Really Family Man is not much more than a contemporary remix of Scrooged, but it’s different enough to keep you awake and hipped-up enough to make you like it. With Nicolas Cage offering a performance you could consider forgiving him Gone in Sixty Seconds for and the talented Tea Leoni at last making her way back to the big screen opposite him, the Family Man’s playfully woven combination of cool comedy and realistic romance provides audiences across the board with one of the few films this season able to offer something likely to entertain almost everyone.
When we first meet our couple, it’s thirteen years previous. Jack Campbell (Cage) and his girlfriend Kate (Leoni) are bidding adieu at the airport. Jack’s going off for an economic internship in England; Kate’s staying in the State’s to attend law school. Their plan is to reunite and spend their lives together, but when Kate makes a last minute ditch to keep Jack home, he declines and gets on his plane. Skip to thirteen years later, and Kate’s nowhere to be found. Jack, on the other hand, is a masterfully thriving Wall Street businessman–he’s got the phat corner office, a slick Manhattan penthouse, a sporty Ferrari, and he’s just had a one-night-stand with Amber Valletta. He ain’t no family man, he’s a capitalist cowboy, and life is good. All good things, though, must come to an end in the world of movies.
So, a late night encounter on the eve of a billion-dollar merger he’s driving sets Jack on a new course in life. A run-in at a convenience store with a hoodlum-angel of sorts, played well enough by Don Cheadle, means the next morning Jack wakes up in the life that could’ve been had he stayed with Kate to play house. Now Jack’s got two kids and a house in Jersey, and, crime of all crimes, his career is Tire Salesman. Cage warms to the comedic task here, as Jack gets submerged in this new life. From poopy diapers to selling tires, he playful gambols through the task of having to discover if the world has any value when it isn’t filled with obliging doormen, $2,500 suits, and easy ladies with nice boobs. Family Man goes more for comedy than saccharine for the bulk of Jack’s journey to discovering the value of the simple life, and director Brett Ratner should be commended for walking carefully its line between truth and sentiment.
Although while this parodic depiction of “real life” is sometimes in danger of being a tad elitist (the tokens of middle-class life aren’t exactly glorified), for the most part what makes Family Man funny is its comedy’s proximity to reality. For example, of Jack’s two children in this other life, his six-year-old daughter has the capacity to recognize this is not her real father; the hilarity is in the fact that she doesn’t seem to care that much as long as she gets picked up from Winter Camp on time. Ultimately, as a wide-angle peek into the way men and women chose to live their lives, Family Man screenwriters David Diamond and David Weissman do a fine job of refusing to pick one gender as the greater evil, instead sympathetically illuminating the differences between both camps as they attempt to love each other for the long-term.
Of course, the most truly entertaining aspect of Family Man is that at its helm sits its young director Ratner. Ratner is best-known for having produced both Jackie Chan Rush Hour movies, and prior to that was primarily a hip-hop video director. While Family Man occasionally underdevelops some of its larger themes–in the end it backs off painting a clear picture of how two people can have each other and their ideal lives as well–it is, for the most part, seamless in its focused look at real lives possible. The irony that this project by Ratner–who is better known for having a big mouth and big box offices than making well-crafted movies–is so sophisticated and that he draws such across the board fine performances from all his players is a testament to something about Ratner. Exactly what, remains to be seen. Either way, Family Man is definitely the family movie to hit at the theaters as Christmas steamrolls its ways through everyone’s lives.

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