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.
The film opens as teenagers Katie (Amber Tamblyn) and Becca (Rachael Bella) are having a sleepover and spooking each other with ghost stories. Trouble is the urban legend Becca retells is all too true as Katie is just about to find out in the most grisly of ways. The story centers on a mysterious videotape that should you be so unfortunate as to view it will kill you in seven days (you know this because someone calls right after you watch it to alert you that you're gonna kick). Katie and her friends watched it and sure enough they're all dead a week later--sparking Katie's aunt an investigative journalist named Rachel (Naomi Watts) to uncover what happened and why. When the trail leads her to the sinister tape she watches it receives the foreboding phone call and consequently sets off on a race against time to somehow save her life by finding out the meaning of what she's seen. She enlists the help of Noah (Martin Henderson) the father of her rather strange and solitary young son Aidan (David Dorfman)--who like all kids in horror movies these days is seeing frightening visions too--and over the course of seven days the two find themselves embroiled in a mystery that involves the tape a twisted family and dying horses.
The acting by all involved is generally good. Naomi Watts who hit the radar with David Lynch's Mulholland Drive last year ably carries the film although there are times in close-up when she looks too self-aware with an almost smug expression as though she's about to smile when the situation isn't the least bit funny. Maybe it's because she knows her Rachel does some pretty mind-blowingly foolish things the most noteworthy among them leaving the deadly video out where her curious son (who annoyingly invokes Haley Joel Osment and looks absolutely nothing like either of the folks playing his parents) can pop it in the ol' VCR. Though Watts is a basically likeable fresh face any number of up-and-coming actresses could have done this role--as well or better.
It's been awhile since jaded horror fans have had something to get excited about. Gore Verbinski justifies his career after the miserable The Mexican with this taut thriller which opens with the teen girls in a truly terrifying sequence reminiscent of Scream. Verbinski is keenly aware of the value of keeping things just out of sight and not resorting to cheap horror movie shlock so there are genuine chills to be had (animal lovers will want to cover their eyes during one particularly horrifying scene). Although the moments that'll really make you jump out of your skin are few and far between the secret behind the videotape is compelling as is the imagery. Without overdoing it The Ring displays some fantastic cinematography particularly with the Buñuel-esque videotape (you could have heard a pin drop as engrossed as the audience was at this review screening) and the shots of gloomy mist-enshrouded Washington State are disquietingly atmospheric. However the last third of the movie is somewhat disappointing and contains several utterly ridiculous scenes--particularly one at the ending (which actually has a nice twist).