" I guess you used up all the ugly in the family "

MRQE Top Critic

Alias: Season Three

In its third season, Alias pulls off a hat trick with another round of pulpy page-turner adventure —Matt Anderson (DVD review...)

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Family Man is yet another modern-day take on the themes found in A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. While there are some good heart-felt moments and solid acting from a cast that milks the material for all it’s worth, the final result doesn’t have the lingering impact of its predecessors.

Nicolas Cage is perhaps capable of the broadest range of any actor today with his comic antics in movies like The Rock and emotional heft in straight dramas like Leaving Las Vegas. Cage plays Jack Campbell, a big-time Manhattan tycoon and semi-Scrooge.

However, Tea Leoni (Bad Boys, Deep Impact) steals Cage’s thunder and delivers a knockout performance as Kate Reynolds, Jack’s college sweetheart, that almost single-handedly makes the movie worth watching. Almost.

One Life, You’ve Got To Do What You Should

Once upon a time, Jack left Kate broken-hearted at the airport as he took off for an extended internship in London instead of staying home to continue building their relationship. It was the job opportunity of a lifetime that would become the foundation for the high-powered life he now lives.

But as fate would have it, Jack is about to get a glimpse at what could have been.

The execution of this date with destiny is rather awkward as Jack shops at a convenience store and makes the acquaintance of an angel named Cash (Don Cheadle, Traffic, Out of Sight), who has no problem pointing a gun at people in order to test their character.

Seeing the inherent good in Jack, Cash goes on to provide him with the opportunity to live an alternate life, while also being thoroughly aware of the life he’s left behind.

However, Cash’s crass demeanor is part of a hard-to-believe setup that is not easily forgiven. The “logic” of a smack-talkin’, gun-totin’ angel is more in keeping with director Brett Ratner’s other work (Rush Hour, Money Talks) and seems out of place here.

Unfortunately, that feeble attempt at some sort of cold, jaded reality is an omen of the manipulative it’s-the-holidays-and-it’s-time-to-reflect-on-the-important-things-in-life schmaltz that follows.

One Life, With Each Other

The movie does have its moments of tenderness and humanity. But a few cute references to the ghosts of Christmas classics past only raise hopes for a new classic holiday movie that never materializes.

Cage turns in another fine performance as the robust big-business playboy who forces his team to work on Christmas Eve in order to close the books on a historic deal. And His transformation into a family man is for the most part believable. Having traded in his Manhattan penthouse for suburban living in New Jersey, Jack becomes a wheeler and dealer of another variety – he’s a tire salesman.

But once again, it’s Leoni’s subtle performance as the grounded, supportive wife that gives the situation the majority of its credibility. She can see the questioning and longing of her husband, but prefers to show strength instead of tears as things get a little rocky in their alternate reality.

One Life, We Get To Carry Each Other

Thankfully, the ending manages to be somewhat of a surprise. Rather than spoon-feeding a traditional happy ending, it leaves the audience with possibilities to think about and leaves “What if…?” as an open-ended question. But, ultimately, the movie falls under the weight of its own desire to please. It’s a movie that’s begging to be liked, but it just doesn’t add up. There’s a hollow feeling generated from the movie’s force-fed sentimentality.

Ratner does well with the comedy, but his handling of the dramatic portions is a little clumsy. While there are some nice observations about life in both corporate America and in mainstream suburbia, there’s enough saccharine floating around to turn the Grinch into a gingerbread man.

Tire salesmen in New Jersey will surely find this movie something to cheer about. Others will be left asking, “What if angels didn’t carry guns?”