CINEMA SIGNALS

. "The Family Man"

One of the sad realities of life is that we can never know how a choice we didn't make would have turned out. Call it a parallel universe, one full of destinies never tried. The stuff of moonbeams and madness. And, oh yes, of fantasy love stories.

As I watched "The Family Man" I wondered what 40's classic it was based on. Except, perhaps, for the Gwyneth Paltrow 1998 alternate life film, "Sliding Door" and the recent supernatural "Bagger Vance", you don't see as many sweet, saccharin, spiritualistic films these days. I kept seeing Jimmy Stewart, Jimmy Stewart. Then I thought, Capra. Lo and behold, it was "It's a Wonderful Life".

The twist is that the "angel", Cash (Don Cheadle), an emissary of some sort from someplace or someone he won't identify -- posing as a pistol-packing almost stickup man, puts Jack Campbell, a hugely successful corporate executive into his alternate universe, the one where he decided not to go to work for Barings in London but, rather, to return to Kate (the always interesting, grossly underexposed Tea Leoni), his truly beloved who asked him at the airport not to go. In this version, he went but returned the next day to establish a life with her that resulted in suburban living, nice house, two kids and a salesman job with her Dad.

The only problem for him is that he remembers only his former life in which a high-powered staff responded to his every wish in making multi-million dollar deals, where he was driven around in the longest limo on Wall Street, and where his dinner tab could finance the U.N. So, he has a hard time adapting to his new reality. The fun of the story is how the process changes him from the very satisfactory Manhattan life of wealth he has rightly earned, wishing for nothing, to the loved but prosaic dad, husband and tire salesman out in the suburbs.

Suddenly, he's driving a not-so-dependable SUV instead of his silver Ferrari (or was it a Lamborghini?) and confronting people from his former life who don't recognize him as well as people from his current one who remember things that he doesn't. He doesn't fit, but sleeping in the same bed with a beautiful woman about whom he keeps noting, "you're so beautiful" (can't you just hear Nicolas Cage saying that), being the center of affection for his kids, one of whom is convinced he's an alien, and the general swirl of small town living, all these things work on his psyche and his values.

How does it work out for him and his alternate dimension family? Well, even though the reader can easily figure it out (less maybe the small twist at the end), we'll save space by leaving it to your imagination. We'll only say that it's pretty predictable. Despite that, sucker for a love story with a good pair of actors and an adorable precocious child that we are, the predictability factor didn't spoil our good time. It might yours... but then, again, it might not.

We hope Nicolas Cage finds another "The Rock", "Con-Air" or "Leaving Las Vegas" and not this other "It Could Happen To You". We like him better twisted and physical though he incorporates lovably involved pretty well. As for Tea Leoni, we just haven't seen enough of this unique actress ("Flirting With Disaster", 1996; "A League of Their Own", 1992) and take comfort in the fact that she's in the upcoming, "Jurassic Park III". Hey, it's work!

Estimated cost: $60,000,000. Projected U.S. boxoffice: $72,000,000.

Rated O, for Otherworldly.

                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  



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