It’s a wonderful life for Jack Campbell (Nicolas Cage, Gone in 60 Seconds). What do you get a millionaire CEO who has everything? All he wants for Christmas is a successful merger deal.
As he wraps up a late-night strategy meeting on Christmas Eve, he receives a message from Kate Reynolds (Téa Leoni, Deep Impact), his college sweetheart, the girl he left behind, brokenhearted, 12 years earlier, in order to start his scramble up the corporate ladder. Jack hangs up after his assistant dials Kate’s number to save both parties the embarrassment.
Maybe his life isn’t so wonderful after all, a mysterious, gun-toting homeboy named Cash (Don Cheadle, Mission to Mars) suggests to Jack after their potentially lethal first meeting. In the morning, Jack wakes up stuck in suburban New Jersey, shanghaied into a Christmas that could have been if he had never left Kate: manager of a tire store, father and husband. As he frantically struggles and fails to reclaim his former life, Cash pulls up in Jack’s Ferrari to hint that Jack will do time in middle-class suburbia until he learns his life’s lesson.
The Family Man is basically a failed comic update of It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) with a few major twists. Wonderful Life‘s George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) slips a ring around his college sweetheart’s finger instead of grabbing for the gold ring of success. He raises a brood of kids while taking over his father’s precarious savings and loan. He chooses what is thrust upon Jack. When the business fails, George faces disaster for not only himself, but for his community which he helped to literally build.
Jack’s biggest problem — and the center of Family Man’s drama and comedy — is that he’s a big fish out of water. Losing your Ferrari for a minivan is not exactly a dramatic reversal of fortune. The only highlight in this dull film is Leoni, who wastes the most credible performance of her career. If you’re in the mood for a feel-good holiday film, go for the real thing: Rent It’s a Wonderful Life.
E-mail James Keith La Croix at firstname.lastname@example.org.