Dave Spritz is at his best when standing in front of a green screen.
The TV weatherman can expertly gesture to things that aren't actually there while putting on a happy, relaxed demeanor for his Chicago viewing audience.
But Spritz (played by Nicolas Cage) is much less comfortable in the real world.
He's still in love with his ex-wife (Hope Davis). His teenage son (Nicholas Hoult) just got out of rehab, and his chubby 12-year-old daughter (Gemmenne de la Pena) is lonely and listless.
His father (Michael Caine) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who has a hard time understanding why his son merits a $240,000 salary when he does very little. ("You're not even a meteorologist," he points out.)
Adding to Spritz's midlife malaise is the fact he is constantly being pelted by objects.
The taunt usually begins, "Hey weatherman," before a Frosty or Chicken McNugget is splattered across his lapel. He eventually realizes that fast food is the appropriate projectile of choice because what he does for a living is itself entirely fleeting and disposable.
Before Spritz's life becomes equally trivial, he vows to iron out his relationships with his ex, kids and father. And professionally, he decides to take advantage of the chance to audition for the weather guy slot on Bryant Gumbel's national morning show.
Rarely has a movie been so consistently depressing and hilarious at the same time as "The Weather Man." Perhaps director Gore Verbinski needed a project to sandwich between the fanciful "Pirates of the Caribbean" and its upcoming sequel that could bring him back down to earth ... or lower.
Yet audiences who can stomach Cage's lingering malaise might appreciate an eccentric drama with a subtle command of dark humor.
Or they might not.
The advance screening I attended featured numerous walkouts. This was not just because of the unrelentingly gloomy storyline, but more the result of ripe language and explicit subject matter. Writer Steve Conrad ("Wrestling Ernest Hemingway") proves himself adept at concocting new ways to manipulate profanity, particularly during a scene in which Spritz discusses the nickname his daughter has acquired from her cruel classmates.
Conrad even introduces a guidance counselor (Gil Bellows) who tries to relate better to his teen subjects by inserting random four-letter words.
It's doubtful that's the approach "The Weather Man" uses; there doesn't seem to be much pandering of any kind in terms of trying to recruit viewers. The oddball film is one of those rarities that somehow has managed to secure a mainstream release, despite being much better-suited for art houses.
The Weather Man ** 1/2
Rarely has a movie been so consistently depressing and hilarious at the same time as "The Weather Man," in which Nicolas Cage portrays a Chicago TV personality trying to relate to his ex-wife, kids and father. Viewers who can stomach Cage's lingering malaise might appreciate this eccentric, darkly humorous drama.
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It's not difficult to figure out how the picture accomplished this, with Oscar-winning, high-profile actors like Cage and Caine attached. The 41-year-old Cage is up for the challenge of getting a whiny, self-absorbed rich guy like Spritz to seem sympathetic. While he may not generate sympathy per se, he at least makes the man's predicament watchable.
The role again showcases why Cage is such a strong screen presence. (Look how dissimilar this withdrawn character is from his charming, rapacious gunrunner in the recent "Lord of War.")
Admittedly, the star doesn't look much like a major-market weatherman. He lacks the generic good looks or blithe peppiness that goes along with the gig.
On the flip side, Caine sure looks the part of a famous novelist but has yet to master a convincing American accent. He always appears on the brink of bursting into cockney and shouting, "I'm going to sit in the car and whistle 'Rule Britannia.'"
But the believable relationship Cage and Caine share is what ultimately redeems "The Weather Man." It introduces some much-needed warmth to a film so draped in its own chilliness.