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Director: Gore Verbinski

Producers: Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Steve Tisch

Written by: Bob Baker, Steve Box, Mark Burton, Nick Park

Cast: Nicholas Cage, Michael Caine, Hope Davis, Gemmenne de la Peña, Nicholas Hoult

Rating: (Bartlett) / (Wright)

“Her BJ’s were less than enthusiastic.” It’s an awkward way to confront the fact that your ex-wife’s sexual prowess wasn’t exactly spectacular. In one of the funniest scenes in Gore Verbinski’s (Pirates Of The Caribbean) new film, a sad-eyed Nicolas Cage tries couples therapy with his estranged wife in order to make things better for their two children. But, as the film often proves, this weather man rarely seems to say, or do, the right thing.

Cage plays Dave Spritz, a Chicago weather man whose local celebrity status occasionally wreaks havoc in his life. In a running gag throughout the film, Dave’s celebrity as a goofy weather man makes him the target for frequent drive-by fast-food peltings. He’s hit in the face with everything from Big Gulps to bean burritos to Frosties, and they always hit him at unexpected moments. Each time, it’s tough not to laugh, because Dave is such a friendly target. His father, Robert Spritzel (Caine) is a Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award- winning novelist, a writing legend. He’s also very serious and dour. Early in the film we see Dave and his father waiting outside a hospital room on some test results. Robert later announces to his son that he has lymphoma, and it’s pretty advanced. His depressed mood doesn’t change much through the remainder of the film. Caine’s portrayal mirrors Cage’s in many ways, and it makes for a few too many somber moments in a film which would have been better if it had been tempered by more sweetness and less salt.

Chicago is cold, and the burry chill of icy Lake Michigan and the snow-covered boulevards lends itself well to the film’s cold tone. Still, Steve Conrad’s screenplay is filled with great lines and terrific moments, one of which ensues at the beginning of the film, when Dave thinks it might be a good idea to throw a snowball at his ex-wife, Noreen (Hope Davis, in a winning performance), whom he still loves. True to Dave’s character, he mistakenly smacks her right in the eye and explains himself by saying, “Well, you turned into it.” Nobody in Hollywood, except perhaps Paul Giamatti, can play droll comedy so well. Cage’s voice and facial affectations are perfectly suited for it. He is whiny and feckless all at the same time. Here, he narrates the film with occasional vulgarity, but thankfully there’s nothing vain about Dave, which makes him a likeable hero.

Dave wants desperately to impress his overweight 12-year-old daughter. He takes her ice-skating and enrolls her in archery lessons, just to get the kid to smile. He’s a good father, and though we aren’t certain why he and his wife split up, we assume it’s because he forgot to bring home the tartar sauce a few too many times. His son, played by the adorable young actor Nicholas Hoult (About A Boy), gets into trouble with a smarmy child-molesting counselor, and Dave marches right over and knocks the counselor’s teeth out. He tries in vain over and over again to reconnect with his ex-wife, and also demonstrates that he’s willing to have sex with the strange women he meets at various speaking engagements. He just can’t seem to fit the broken pieces of his life back together the way he wants them to fit. When his daughter fails miserably as an archer, Dave takes up the hobby and becomes an able shooter. Director Verbinski and the writer have developed an obvious metaphor for Dave’s life: You’re not always going to hit the bullseye, but with practice and dedication you can get better. Dave’s struggle to make his life better eventually lands him a job on “Hello, America,” hosted by Bryant Gumbel in New York. It also leads to more respect, with no more Big Gulps ruining his Italian suits.

The one thing that bothered me about the film besides its too-often somber mood, is the musical score by Hans Zimmer. Thankfully it’s understated, but the repetitive plunking metal sounds seem hopelessly out of place. This film reminded me of last year’s masterwork by Alexander Payne, Sideways, but it lacked the pure sweetness and outright hilarity of Payne’s film. Still, it’s no small effort, and Cage and Verbinski should be praised for taking on a risky project like this one, because it’s not exactly the kind of film people will walk out of with smiles across their faces, ready to recommend it to their neighbors. It’s a more contemplative effort, one that takes a while to sink in. Once it does, it finally forecasts more than a few smiles.

—Tiffany C. Bartlett

David Spritz has ruined his life. He failed as a husband, he’s failing as a father, and he’s an unimpressive son. The only thing he’s really good at is doing the weather, but he’s not even really a meteorologist, just a dude who can work a green screen and look handsome doing it. Hell, David Spritz isn’t even his real name. The news of his father’s failing health gives him impetus to gather his life together, prove that he’s not a waste. But how easy is it to fix your life when people randomly assault you with fast food?

I don’t know how to use the word without sounding like a total prick, but I have to: existentialism. This movie is about realizing the absurdity of life in this modern age. David Spritz slowly becomes aware of the fact that he’s got no substance or depth to him. He’s self-absorbed, undisciplined, and at the end of his prime. All he’s good at is pulling down six figures for his salary. But he’s only good at the things he’s practiced, and he hasn’t practiced being a good human being, a wise man, a good father, a good son, or even a decent writer. He specializes in Television, and he’s starting to pick up archery. With his father dying, he’s trying to be a better person, but that’s not as easy as TV or archery. Some serious introspection reveals all of this to him, and he must gratefully give up his role as father, husband, and son. The least he could do is leave on a good note.

The movie didn’t end quite the way I thought it would, but this isn’t the story I thought I’d get. For that reason I’ll try not to hate on it. Besides, as a loyal South Park fan, I can’t in good conscience complain about the moral of the story being unconventional (to put it lightly). I don’t feel like complaining anyway, I feel like commenting. What the hell was with the dub beat in the background of empty scenes? Since when do TV personalities have dub as their theme music? I might have found that funny if it were Bryant Gumbel’s theme music, but as it is I’m just confused. Spend an evening with this movie and you’ll be confused too. At least it was funny…

—Duncan Wright

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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