The Family Man
If nothing else, The Family Man deserves credit for audacity. Essentially reversing the formula of It's A Wonderful Life, the film gives a selfish but highly successful Wall Street baron (Nicolas Cage) a glimpse of the more humble, helpful life he might have led had he married his college sweetheart (Téa Leoni) and settled for existence as a tire salesman in suburban New Jersey. But if the film doesn't embarrass itself by courting comparison to Frank Capra's classic, it doesn't quite distinguish itself, either. Directed with surprising restraint, aside from the occasional poop gag, by action-comedy veteran Brett Ratner (Rush Hour), Family shows an admirable, if eventually misguided, commitment to its central premise. Cage's conversion (at the hands of Christmastime angelic interloper Don Cheadle) from a Ferrari-driving hotshot into an overworked father of two serves as the uninterrupted focus of the film, and aside from some cloying interactions between Cage and his wide-eyed, lisping daughter, Ratner allows the story to unfold at a natural, unforced, distraction-free pace. But there's one central problem he can't shake: It's not much of a story, tracing Cage's evolution from a likable if misguided and materialistic man to a likable, less materialistic man with the ability to change diapers. It's tempting to praise The Family Man for what it doesn't do: There's no child endangerment and no grafted-on subplots, and the ending doesn't betray what's preceded it. But, albeit pleasant and well-acted, it's more likely to produce shrugs than laughs or tears. Love can make the world a better place, it instructs, but who's going to argue with that?