The last great “what if” movie was Sliding Doors. This one doesn’t match up. Being American, there has to be a message, plus a generous scoop of sentiment.
The message is the same as Scrooged. Workaholic bachelors who treat Christmas like any other day are going to learn a lesson which is that no amount of money can match the love of a good woman, or the faces of little children when they open their stockings.
Jack Campbell (Nicolas Cage) has just left college with high ambitions in the financial market. He’s at the airport saying goodbye to his girlfriend, Kate (Tea Leoni), who is taking a job in a law firm. Jack is off to London to work for Barclays. She pleads, “Don’t go.” He doesn’t listen.
Thirteen years later, he’s a highly successful Wall Street investment banker, known for his cutthroat deals and ruthless approach to competition. He loves the life, the money, the beautiful girls. He loves his Ferrari and wardrobe of expensive suits. He’s on top and his confidence is soaring, when WAP!!! he meets a gunman (Don Cheadle) in a convenience store on Christmas Eve, who changes his life.
He finds himself in a New Jersey suburb, married to Kate, with two kids, a dog and a job selling tyres (retail) for his father-in-law. He doesn’t know what’s going on and has to learn where his life has been for the last 13 years. Obviously, he didn’t go to London. He listened to her. And now what?
She’s working in a non-profit attorney’s office, helping the underprivileged. He’s flogging heavy treads at discount prices to truck companies and wearing cheap clothes. His friends are ordinary and he’s the star of the firm’s bowling team, except Jack Campbell, the Wall Street shark, can’t do that and when the wife of one of his neighbours comes onto him at a party, he doesn’t know whether they are having an affair, or about to.
The idea is full of promise, particularly when Jack the banker never changes into Jack the saleman. He has to act the role to Kate, his boring friends, his children, until he begins to like it, which is where the sentiment comes in.
Leoni is too perfect and almost too beautiful. Cage plays baffled to the point of hysteria, stumbling through one embarrassing moment to another, like a bison in a boudoir.
Every scene is too long. Added together, the movie could lose 40 minutes and gain considerably. When salesman Jack tries to get back into his old firm, it is taking the conceit beyond the realm of incredulity, assuming, of course, that a parallel existence sits comfortably in your imagination.
It is interesting to think of Cage as a modern day James Stewart and Leoni as the new June Allyson. If they remake The Glenn Miller Story, let’s hope the script is sharper than this. More jokes would have been nice, and less emphasis on the snobbery of money versus home-sweet-home.