- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 27, 2005

“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows,” Bob Dylan said. And doesn’t David Spritz just know it.

Spritz, the dispirited anti-hero played by Nicolas Cage in Gore Verbinski’s “The Weather Man,” is a successful Chicago television personality who doesn’t so much predict the weather as faux cheerfully read copy prepared for him by an off-camera meteorologist. For this job befitting a “general communications” major, Spritz is paid handsomely; he may not be a millionaire, but he is certainly rich by Internal Revenue Service standards.

Yet as shallow as he is, Spritz is self-aware enough to feel dissatisfied. He is a wannabe novelist, while his father, Robert, a Greatest Generation stoic played by Michael Caine, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer whom President Carter once called a “national treasure” (though that may be an inside wink at Mr. Cage’s hit movie of last year). Spritz’s ex-wife, Noreen (Hope Davis), is ensconced in their suburban Chicago home with another man. His children are having problems — teenaged Mike (Nicholas Hoult) is in counseling for pot smoking; 12-year-old Shelly (Gemmenne de la Pena) is obese.

Mr. Verbinski, who, along with star Johnny Depp, turned Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” into an adventure with a wit as impressive as its swashbuckling spectacle, pulls off a similar feat of artistic alchemy with a big Paramount budget here.

It was no easy task: With arty cinematography from Phedon Papamichael (scenes of wintry Chicago and its frozen lakefront will have you seeing your breath in climate-controlled theaters), some shocking sex talk and an overall tone of deadpan misanthropy, it’s hard to know whom “The Weather Man” is aimed at. The movie is funny, though never hilarious, and it seems to have a somewhat serious ambition of satirizing American commercial culture. Fast food is literally a weapon here, with Spritz’s public periodically pelting him with leftover drive-thru grub.

Fortunately, Mr. Cage plays a charming ne’er-do-well, with perpetually anxious eyes that convey more desperation than malice. It’s hard not to pity Spritz even as he treats autograph seekers like mosquitoes, and especially as his father, possibly facing terminal cancer, gently but insistently tries to understand why his son has made such a mess.

Screenwriter Steven Conrad does a terrific job of putting us inside Spritz’s addled head, often through narration, but just as effectively through flashbacks of marital spats and Scotch-induced reveries of a life built on the sands of superficiality.

Excellent performances from Mr. Cage, Mr. Caine and Miss Davis help obscure the fact that the movie ultimately hinges on whether Spritz accepts a job in New York City as an Al Roker-type talking head on a national morning TV show hosted by Bryant Gumbel (who notches an amusing cameo). The filmmakers hastily dispatch subplots involving Robert’s sickness, Shelly’s disaffection and an unnervingly inappropriate relationship between Mike and his drug-rehab counselor (Gil Bellows).

On the other hand, such a workaday resolution may be the movie’s bold stroke. “The Weather Man” has some downbeat news: that maturity and happiness depend on the acceptance, at some point, of life as a process of winnowing possibilities. What’s done is done, and what can be changed can’t be changed easily.

Good luck selling that version of the American Dream to the public.

***

TITLE: “The Weather Man”

RATING: R (Profanity and sexual content)

CREDITS: Directed by Gore Verbinski. Produced by Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal and Steve Tisch. Written by Steven Conrad. Cinematography by Phedon Papamichael. Score by Hans Zimmer.

RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes.

WEB SITE: www.weathermanmovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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