In the schlock weeper The Family Man, Jack Campbell (Nicolas Cage), a hedonistic Wall Street bachelor, wakes up one day to discover that he’s been plunged into the scruffy domestic life he thought he’d avoided. In this mystical parallel universe, he’s married to Kate (Téa Leoni), the woman he left behind at an airport 13 years before, and he’s now a badly dressed New Jersey tire salesman with two children, a cozy house full of ugly faded wallpaper, bills up the ying yang, and the sort of chummy, vulgar working class neighbors whose idea of a wild time is bowling night.
”The Family Man” is ”It’s a Wonderful Life” remade as a shark out of water comedy — it’s family values porn for commitmentphobes. Cage, a canny actor even in the pulpiest of circumstances, does dryly funny double takes as Jack confronts the workaday horror of his new situation. But Cage’s moon dog mug is required to go misty once too often, and the outsize ticky tackiness of Jack’s new life has been stitched together out of the broadest possible series of middle American clichés.
The glorified sitcom texture only underscores the whopper at the heart of the film’s premise: How can Jack begin to know what it feels like to be a ”family man” when the two kids staring up at him are essentially strangers?
The underlying emotion in ”The Family Man” is not just the fear of commitment — it’s the fear of getting left behind if you don’t commit. In a world where women have more independence than ever, you can bet that Hollywood will continue to spin that fear into tearfully flattering dreams.