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By Chris Gore | December 23, 2000

If the movies “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart and “Scrooged” with Bill Murray got together and had hot holiday sex, the baby resulting from that union could be called “Family Man.”
Jack Campbell (Nicholas Cage) seems to have the perfect life – he’s rich, has a beautiful Manhattan apartment, a closet full of designer suits, a great job on Wall Street, a hot girlfriend and he drives a Ferrari. Life is good. It’s no surprise that he is obsessed with his career and at the end of the day, Jack is really an arrogant prick. A phone call from his college sweetheart Kate Reynolds (Tea Leoni) on Christmas Eve gets him thinking about the choice he made as a young man – get on a plane to England and pursue a career in finance, or stay and begin a life with her. Of course, Jack chose the career and to top it off, he laughs off even the idea of returning Kate’s call. He thinks that anyone who gives two s***s about his old college girlfriend must be a loser. But what if he had made a different choice? What if he had stayed behind and not gotten on that plane?
Jack performs a good deed when he has a chance encounter with a man named Cash (Don Cheadle) at a liquor store. Cash returns and forces Jack into a journey that offers him a glimpse at the life he might have had. The next morning, Jack awakens to Kate and the cries of his two children. Jack suddenly takes a detour into family life. He’s on morning kid duty changing diapers and dropping the little ones off at daycare, he’s dirt poor, his wife is a non-profit attorney, he works as a tire salesman at Big Ed’s and, to add insult to injury, he lives in New Jersey! Jack meets up with Cash and desperately pleads to get his old life back. When he finds out that’s not possible, he at least wants to know how long this is going to last. “As long as it takes,” replies Cash. For the moment, Jack is stuck. What follows is Jack’s attempt to tolerate this new “family” life and survive using his Wall Street cunning. When that doesn’t work, he just gives in and discovers that family life is not so bad. Kate is hot – make that damn hot! There’s nothing better than watching a naked Tea Leoni sing in the shower behind sheer glass. His six year-old daughter Annie (Makenzie Vega) is beyond precocious, she’s an overdose of cute and a true charmer. Jack actually begins to enjoy this alternate suburbia and then POOF! it’s gone. Can he ever attain that kind of happiness in his own reality, having made those choices in the past?
This is a sappy Christmas story – basically Scrooge with only one visitor, the ghost of Christmas present in the form of Don Cheadle. Which brings up a thought. Why is it that there have been a rash of films about black characters spiritually guiding a white lead male on some journey of self discovery? There have been several within the last year alone. Black characters are always cool in movies, but do they have some kind of magical powers that I don’t know about? Why is it that this theme keeps coming back in movies? Let’s name the films: ^ The Green Mile: John Coffey guides Tom Hanks with his healing ability. ^ Bedazzled: God is a con in prison with Brendan Fraser and offers spiritual advice. ^ The Legend of Bagger Vance: Will Smith coaches Matt Damon in the golf game of his life. ^ Unbreakable: Sam Jackson opens up Bruce Willis’ eyes in his quest to be a superhero. ^ And now The Family Man where Don Cheadle, presumably an angel from above, gives Nicholas Cage a look at the life he might have had. Just thought I would point this out. (We’ll have to do a feature story on this later, so if anyone has any thoughts on this, drop me an e-mail.)
In any case, this is a “feel good” movie, so if you don’t like this kind of sappy flick, hey, don’t put syrup on your pancakes. I like this kind of film when it is done well, but “feel good” films have gotten a bad name since so many of them are so pitiful. It’s very easy to screw up this kind of movie, especially when the “message” is forced and obvious. When they are great, the results are uplifting (Breaking Away, Field of Dreams, Billy Elliot) and when is done poorly, it can backfire horribly and even make viewers angry (Rocky V, Pay it Forward). I don’t just like “Family Man” because it is a well done feel-good movie, y’see, I am a family man myself. I’ve got two kids, am happily married and have been for nine years. I’ve faced the kinds of choices that Cage’s character does in the film, but I’ve always got my family in mind. I know, shocker, Gore with his bizarre attitudes and strange tastes is a family guy, but I am. A lot of my friends cannot get over it, but I dig being a dad.
Ultimately, “Family Man” succeeds because of a combination of great performances (Tea Leoni is a real standout), a solid script and an ending that is not exactly what you would expect. If you’re looking for a heartfelt, feel-good holiday movie, just give in and enjoy. Or, if you just want to see Tea Leoni grind, totally nude in the shower, “Family Man” has that too.

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