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Cinema Signal:

Fathers and Sons
by Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev


. "The Weather Man"

It's winter in Chicago when this tale of success battered by emotional headwinds takes form. But it's not the mini ice floes out on the lake that are the coldest elements. That honor goes to director Gore Verbinski and screenwriter Steven Conrad who are hell bent on getting us to throw our Halcion away so they can bring us down with their film. This study in guaranteed depression deserves all the boxoffice frost it's likely to get.

David Spritz (Nicolas Cage) delivers the weather forecast as well as the best of them. He's got the jet stream patter down and delivers it with control and flair, selling his dew points and pressure systems. His success explains why he's invited by the national network for a chance to work on "Hello America" at New York headquarters with Bryant Gumbel (who plays himself).

Control, however, stops there. The minute he emerges from the comfort zone of the green screen panel, he's a poster child for profound depression and a virtual black hole attracting personal disaster. This character is a planet that sees little light, and you have to wonder what the writers saw in it.

But, as much as David can't get a handle on his own purpose in life, and as much as he can't live up to the expectations of a Pulitzer Prize-winning father Robert (Michael Caine) (who constantly confirms his disappointment in his son's attainments), David bends over backwards to demonstrate love and devotion for his own kids, chubby Shelly (Gemmenne de la Pena) and vulnerable teenage son Mike (Nicholas Hoult). They are his family, now living in his ex-beautiful brick home with his icy ex-wife Noreen (Hope Davis).

David does the bachelor thing in a spare but well appointed apartment between bizarre collisions with Noreen. He takes Shelly out everywhere he can think of in a fatherly attempt to light a spark in her pathetically passive range of interest. He chooses archery as a possible activity for her, and winds up a decent archer himself while Shelly never gets the hang of it and cares less. His paternal attentiveness has a lot to do with wanting Noreen to give their marriage another chance, but that's like asking the North Pole to grow a palm tree. There's nothing in this movie that's going to thaw.

Are we supposed to feel sorry for a guy knocking down a decent TV salary that could go astronomical at the network level? The concept is clouded. It doesn't take a psych degree to understand that David's functional inabilities stem from dad's crippling lack of approval. As strange and difficult to understand or warm up to as David is, Robert, his father, is Jack Frost. This guy makes glum inexpressiveness an art form, a numbing, unemotional greyness who remains chillingly silent until he gets his own gloomy news. But we shouldn't blame Michael Caine -- he didn't write this stuff.

Humor pervades this portrait of a weatherman as a hopeless wreck with abnormal behavioral ways, though it's the humor of being humorless that Cage & Co. are counting on. When they try to be funny, it worsens. Drive-by vandals recognizing their celebrity weather guy on the street nail him with sodas, smoothies, and half-eaten fast food. Though this is based on an actual incident, it's not only unfunny and awkward, but as overdone as most slapstick is, never rising to become a good running gag.

The cinematography by Phedon Papamichael outshines the thematic overcast in every frame but artistic technical work can't sweeten an acrimonious story climate. What's to be found here is a form of relentless melancholia that we generally associate with the Russian Gulag, and there's little warmth to be extracted from it. The metaphor that's being attempted is harshly served by winds of exaggeration. Bring your overcoat.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Nicolas Cage, The Weather Man
Functioning fine against the green screen
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