The Family Man

Don’t be misled by the title or the wacky-looking advertisements: “The Family Man” is not a family film. The language and sexual content are too strong for children, and the movie is more drama than comedy anyway.

Aside from that, the poky little film has a certain amount of humor and charm, though the jokes are infrequent and the romance unconvincing. It is Christmas Eve 2000 and Wall Street tycoon Jack Campbell (Nicolas Cage) is working harder than ever. (His employees all complain about it being Christmas Eve; no one points out that it’s Sunday, too, for crying out loud.) A multi-billion-dollar merger is about to take place, and he’s got no time or sentiment for things like Christmas, not when there are anonymous women to be slept with.

While walking home, he quells a potentially dangerous situation at a liquor store (Question: Why would he do this?) and winds up talking to the bad guy (Don Cheadle). He turns out to be some sort of angel or something (the movie is rather cryptic on this point) and he casts a spell, or whatever angels do, so that when Jack wakes up the next morning, he’s in the life he DIDN’T choose — the one where he married his college sweetheart, Kate (Tea Leoni), has two kids in suburban New Jersey, and works at his father-in-law’s tire store.

Boy, if there’s anything that will make you break out in a cold sweat, it’s waking up to find yourself in New Jersey. At any rate, the movie’s most amusing turns come in this chunk, as Jack suddenly has to adjust to a life that, as far as the people around him are concerned, he’s been living for 13 years. Still, there’s something mildly disquieting when most of the jokes center around such trite things as having to change a diaper, or the fact that a middle-class lifestyle is so beneath the New York playboy. Can’t we think of anything better?

It’s safe to assume that if you were going to create a modern Scrooge and didn’t want to think too hard about it, you’d make him a Wall Street whiz. And how do you convey that a man has no soul? Make him rich, of course! Wealth and soullessness are synonyms!

And why is it that when a film blatantly steals from a classic — “It’s a Wonderful Life,” in this case — the characters almost never acknowledge it? Are we to assume Jack has never heard of that movie and therefore doesn’t recognize how it parallels his situation? Or is the movie afraid of pointing out the similarities, hoping we won’t catch it if they don’t mention it? One can only assume this is the logic behind only vaguely hinting at Don Cheadle’s character being an angel, rather than stating it outright.

Nicolas Cage is his usual combination of hyper-crazy and just plain off-center, which is either good or bad, depending on your Nicolas Cage views. That said, he is merely serviceable in a domestic role: not great, not bad, just OK. He seems to be playing the part the way he plays most of his parts, forcing his square quirkiness into a round hole.

Tea Leoni is much better as Kate, displaying an earnestness and likability that buoys the film a great deal. Don Cheadle is good as whatever he is, though he disappears for most of the movie. In the end, everything turns out precisely the way you’d expect — the film gets no points for originality (we won’t even mention the early-2000 Australian film “Me Myself I,” which had the EXACT same plot) — except that it hasn’t entertained you nearly as much as you wish it had.

C+ (; PG-13, moderate profanity including one R-rated one, a scene of rather strong nudity, heavy sexual innuendo.)