Extremely hollow `Weather Man'

Review C+

October 28, 2005|By MICHAEL SRAGOW | MICHAEL SRAGOW,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

The comedy of inappropriate behavior energizes the squirmy center of today's funniest, most excruciating TV series, such as Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm and Ricky Gervais' Extras. It's the comedy of men and women (OK, mostly men) not just behaving badly, but not knowing how to behave well.

The Weather Man, directed by Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean) from an original script by Steve Conrad, boldly attempts to bring that kind of farce to the big screen. But the movie mostly proves that cutting-edge humiliations are best absorbed in 25-minute segments on HBO.

True to the form, it centers on a hero with the social-skill equivalent of "special needs." Nicolas Cage plays a Chicago TV weatherman whose professional life skyrockets - he's up for a network job at a New York-based morning show - just when his private life has been fizzling. He wants his ex-wife (Hope Davis) back, but she doesn't even consider him a suitable ex-husband. His son (Nicholas Hoult) has entered a rehab program with an unsavory counselor (Gil Bellows). His daughter (Gemmenne De la Pena) is overweight and unhappy.

He serves as a misery-magnet whenever he leaves his Chicago studio. He becomes a target for fast-food missiles from sneering viewers, who land every kind of food stuff from each major fast-food chain on his head or neck or chest. Just when you think things couldn't get worse (and the thought comes five or 10 minutes in), he discovers that his father (Michael Caine), a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, has lymphoma.

A smattering of yucks emerge from the escalating woefulness of it all. Cage becomes a post-modern version of Lil' Abner's Joe Btfsplk, carrying catastrophe around in a personal cloud over his head. But the same mechanisms that can make a clipped TV show irresistibly hilarious - the concatenation of calamities, the hero's unfailing knack for stumbling - turn numbing at feature length.

Verbinski and Conrad load too much weight on the shoulders of Cage's hollow man. They're too explicit about ideas that are better left unstated: contemporary fame and fortune rest on willowy skills or turns of luck; media-formed pictures of happiness breed frustration and discontent.

Cage uses his long face and distracted looks for sometimes brilliant satirical effects. His anti-hero always has several commentary tracks running in his head - in one, he's a handsome rake, in another, a devoted family man, and so on. In the funniest sequence, those tracks keep interrupting his struggle to remember to get tartar sauce for his wife at a takeout counter.

Under the circumstances, Caine's measured gravity can be risible and soothing, but apart from Cage's worship of him, their relationship lacks resonance. The ceaseless downbeat riffs raise more nagging questions than chuckles, yowls or titters.

Hope Davis (Proof) continues to do no wrong. But you wonder what this sharp, focused woman ever saw in a wan fantasist like the weatherman. At the end, you're still wondering what made Verbinski, Cage and Conrad think he could be the anchor of a movie.

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

The Weather Man

(Paramount)

Starring Nicolas Cage, Michael Caine and Hope Davis.

Directed by Gore Verbinski.

Rated R.

Time 102 minutes.

Review C+

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