Alternately funny and poignant The Weather Man is the story of callow Chicago TV weather forecaster Dave Spritz (Cage) who--despite his seeming success--sees himself paling in comparison to his acclaimed author father (Michael Caine). He is also alienated from his soon-to-be-ex-wife (Hope Davis) and unable to bond with his disconnected kids. He even lacks a bond with his loyal viewers who sometimes randomly fling fast food at him on the street. There are laughs in Spritz’s anxious bids to connect with his kin to be sure but the film goes deeper and heavier than expected--and that’s a good thing. Spritz’s initially amusing attempt to bond with his daughter via her fleeting interest in archery turns symbolic after he becomes skilled at the sport. He embraces his bow and quiver as if they were much-needed proof that he’s capable of change. You’ve gotta hand it to Cage. Even after he’s walked through such by-the-numbers action fare as National Treasure his off-kilter but always razor-sharp acting instincts are never dulled when he tackles more substantial projects like Adaptation. The Weather Man is one of the latter and while Spritz seems poised to be crushed by the weight of his emotional baggage Cage effortlessly carries the movie on his shoulders. He is matched move-for-move by the wily veteran Michael Caine who raises his always impressive game to pitch-perfection for this one. That buzzing sound you hear is the Oscar talk that’s sure to swirl around both actors. Director Gore Verbinski is best known for high-production scare-fests like The Ring and Pirates of the Caribbean and while The Weather Man may seem a radical departure from blockbuster-style filmmaking it’s assembled with just as much care and precision. This time Verbinski’s storytelling skills are bolstered more by strong performances rather than f/x. The end result has the dark character-driven humor and emotional resonance of a Hal Ashby film like Being There set against an artfully rendered Chicago cityscape. Indeed Verbinski is so adept he makes not only the Windy City a genuine character in the film he does so for the flung Frostys and French fries marking him as a director whose eye is as on-target as one of Dave Spritz’s arrows.
Randolph Smiley (Robin Williams) is on top of his game--he's the eponymous star of the highest rated kid's TV show Rainbow Randolph has his own Times Square billboard and makes lots of money. Until that is he gets caught taking bribes from stage parents. Suddenly he becomes the social pariah of the millennium and of course gets canned. Losing Rainbow Randolph however leaves the network in a bind. Now they have to find a squeaky-clean replacement pronto. Enter Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton) and his alter-ego Smoochy an abnormally large fuschia rhino who sings children's songs about kicking drug habits and stepdads who aren't mean but simply adjusting. With his naivete unwavering ethics and unflagging ambition to make the world a better place he becomes the new number one show. Sheldon soon learns however how cutthroat children's entertainment can be as the powers that be try to corrupt his ideals. Meanwhile a homeless Randolph makes it his number-one priority to destroy the bastard who stole his life. Who's going to get Smoochy first the corrupt businessmen or crazy Rainbow Randy? Stay tuned...
When you hear the Smoochy cast list--Williams Danny DeVito Jon Stewart Catherine Keener--you automatically think mondo laughs. Added to the list is Norton who may not be known for his comedic talents but certainly adds credibility to the movie especially given that he rarely picks bad scripts. Luckily no one disappoints. Norton plays the straight guy with aplomb and shines brilliantly when singing his sappy yet lesson-filled songs. Keener whom we haven't seen since her Oscar-nominated turn in Being John Malkovich is also a standout as the jaded development VP who falls for Sheldon's sweet manner. She has an uncanny way of delivering lines that bite to the bone. And then there's Williams--as always he has extraordinary moments of sheer hilarity in the film. This isn't one of those films where the comedian has to attempt to act or simply be reined in by the director (as some have done) to give a good performance. Director DeVito (who also plays the greedy agent) is wise enough to simply turn the camera on the comedian and let him go. Just wish we could have seen more of him.
Ever wonder what it would be like to kill Barney? We're betting DeVito thought about it quite often--and things never turn out good for that purple dinosaur. The premise of Smoochy is one of the funnier ones in recent memory and seems to follow the dark comedic path DeVito has chosen in his other directorial efforts including War of the Roses and Throw Momma From the Train. Unfortunately Smoochy doesn't quite hold up to its hype (or its trailers) because basically it focuses on the wrong character. It's got some great moments granted especially when Smoochy is on his show. But instead of being about Randy's obsession to do away with his replacement the film chooses to follow Mopes and deal with the dirty business of making a kid's show which appears to involve the Mob (whatever). Smoochy would have been a lot funnier if Randolph could have finally succeeded in his quest instead of getting all sappy.