It’s great to see Gerard Butler take a break from mind-numbing action franchises, lame sword and sorcery flicks and decades of failed comedies and try something new.
But it must be the luck of the Scots that when he does change speeds, it’s in a movie with a title so banal Nicolas Cage already owns it and a melodrama so bland it could be a Lifetime Original Movie.
In “A Family Man,” he plays an unscrupulous workaholic who barely notices when his oldest son gets sick, and is rarely there when the kid is hospitalized for the cancer battle of his life.
Will Dane Jensen, a St. Louis native (from the Scottish Quarter?) see the error of his ways, not lying, cheating, hustling and absentee-parenting in time to “be there” for his kid?
One of the failings of “Family Man” is that this is rarely in doubt, and another is that the script clumsily wants him to have his cake, and time with his sickly son, too.
It’s a “Boiler Room/Wolf of Wall Street” peek inside the high-pressure world of corporate head-hunting. The stakes seem penny-ante when compared to stock hustling, real-estate hustling, etc. Who knew?
Dane is a fast-talking creep who keeps “a desk drawer full of ‘burner phones'” so that he can sweet talk desperate job seekers on his office line, and sabotage their chances if they find a job on their own (no fees) using another number, another name and a mouthful of slander and innuendo to scare off potential employers.
His ruthless boss (Willem Dafoe) expects no less. And if he doesn’t scramble, his slightly-less unethical colleague (Allison Brie) will get the jump on him.
So yeah, the three kids and wife (Gretchen Mol) and Highland Park home life take a back seat.
Screenwriter Bill Dubuque — forget that name — illustrates Dane’s sense of responsibility and victimhood by scribbling the clunkiest, clumsiest, most tin-eared “sex” scene in the history of the big screen. If that online screenwriting course offers a refund, pal, GRAB it.
Alfred Molina is one of the aging, desperate mid-level managers/engineers and execs trying not to beg Dane to do his job and cut them a break.
Dane has no real time for him, and only notices that his son (Max Jenkins) has grown a pot belly, and can’t keep up when he demands they go job it off. The bruises? Only his wife spies those.
It’s a life-threatening disease, and Dane learns the hard way that he can’t bully the doctor (Anupam Kher) into a quick fix.
To be fair, there are some touching moments as Dad tries to connect with his loves-to-draw-buildings kid by wandering the great old edifices of Chicago, in between chemos. Young Jenkins has the soulful qualities the movies give sick children.
But nothing in this slog of a picture is developed enough to make “Think I’ll do this movie with Gerard Butler” pay off for the supporting cast. Dane’s occasional tantrum eats up screen time that could have made the wife and boss more than caricatures, the “good man” Dane is letting down (Molina, with Mimi Kuzyk playing the wife) shown at the end of his tether, or the cutthroat nature of the office.
I seriously question whether that business has this sort of pressure, or rewards, attached to it.
Still, Butler took a shot, gave it a try and unless it’s his fault that all his scenes stay in and unbalance the picture while everybody else’s got cut — or he wrote that ridiculous “negotiated” oral sex scene — deserves credit for not picking up a gun, a sword or Jennifer Aniston one more time.
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual content
Cast: Gerard Butler, Gretchen Mol, Willem Dafoe, Max Jenkins, Alfred Molina, Alison Brie, Anupam Kher
Credits:Directed by Mark Williams, script by Bill Dubuque. A Vertical release.
Running time: 1:50