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Leoni Online: The Articles — The Hollywood Reporter

The Family Man
By Michael Rechtshaffen Its “what if” hook might be pure, undistilled “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but what “The Family Man” lacks in original concept it more than compensates for in skilled execution. A fantasy/romantic comedy about a driven Wall Street exec who is offered a valuable glimpse of the path not taken, the picture is an unexpectedly introspective surprise, especially given director Brett Ratner’s reputation based on the fast-paced buddy caper comedies “Rush Hour” and “Money Talks,” which have characterized his feature career. But Ratner, working from a solid script by David Diamond and David Weissman, mines the story’s comedic and wistful elements effectively while avoiding the potential mush factor.

With Nicolas Cage (making a welcome return from action-movie purgatory) and Tea Leoni (in by far her best performance to date) on hand to bring it all home, Universal appears to have found the sleeper capper to a remarkable year.

As the slick, powerful Jack Campbell, Cage gets a chance to tap into the comedic talent on display before he discovered that it was more lucrative to outrun fireballs. No stranger to burning the midnight candle on Christmas Eve, Jack, a workaholic, has never looked back since he said goodbye to his girlfriend, Kate (Leoni), at the airport en route to London for a brokerage internship, with the promise that they would be apart for only a year. That was 13 years ago, but Jack, with a little assistance from a seemingly unlikely source (Don Cheadle as an unorthodox mystery emissary), is given a rare opportunity to live the possible life he left behind. Falling asleep in his immaculate Manhattan penthouse, he awakens on Christmas to find himself surrounded by Kate, now his wife, and their two children in their modest New Jersey bedroom. Horrified – and even more horrified when he discovers there is a cluttered minivan in place of his beloved Ferrari – Jack bolts. But when he finds out the hard way that all evidence of his “real” life has been erased, he begrudgingly makes a go of this domestic bliss thing, with the assurance that the diaper-changing and carpooling are part of a temporary aberration. Of course, life has a way of interfering with your plans. . Speaking of a glimpse of what might have been, a dozen or so years earlier, “Family Man” could easily have been a John Hughes picture starring Chevy Chase. But while the Hughes temptation would have been to veer into Capra-corn territory, Ratner ensures that the material remains thoughtfully grounded.

It’s not surprising that Cage is a pro when it comes to finding the “real” in surreal, but Leoni’s performance is nothing short of a revelation. There’s a remarkable truthfulness in every fiber of Kate’s character, and her reactions (or lack thereof) to Jack’s even-odder-than-usual behavior allow for the kind of depth not found in your average high-concept comedy. Even rarer, there’s a winningly convincing chemistry between them.

Cheadle brings an impish quality to his cosmic social worker character, and Jeremy Piven provides able support as the best buddy Jack never knew he had. Makenzie Vega is terrific as his daughter, Annie, a child with an old soul who, believing Jack to be an alien impersonating her real daddy, coaches him quietly in the methods of modern child-rearing. Behind the scenes, things are equally top-drawer, with acclaimed cinematographer Dante Spinotti (“L.A. Confidential,” “The Insider”) lending the proceedings a darker-tinged luster not normally associated with the genre and composer Danny Elfman contributing an uncharacteristically spare but effectively resonant score.

George Bailey would have approved.