Gloomy outlook

Careful, Nic. It’s about to rain soda pop on your head again.

Careful, Nic. It’s about to rain soda pop on your head again.

Rated 2.0

Say this for The Weather Man: The sullen character at its center gets hit by milk shakes often, in a style that is both violent and vibrant. The sight of frozen, sugary dairy fluids splashing off of a man’s shoulder in this movie qualifies as great art.

That’s about the best thing that can be said about the latest from director Gore Verbinski, maker of The Ring and Pirates of the Caribbean. The Weather Man plays like a dark comedy that should’ve been a nutty slapstick or, better yet, never made.

Nicolas Cage stars as droopy weather guy David Spritz, a malcontent suffering from marital problems, career indifference and a severe case of being a lousy poppa. Things are a mess with the family. His wife, Noreen (Hope Davis), is seeing another man, and his overweight daughter, Shelly (Gemmenne de la Peña), is dubbed “Camel Toe” by her classmates. His son, Mike (Nicholas Hoult), gets himself into trouble with a drug counselor (Gil Bellows) who fancies him, and to make things all the more downtrodden, his father, Robert (Michael Caine), has just discovered he has advanced cancer.

Not all things are terrible for David. A morning news show starring Bryant Gumbel is eyeing him for a slot on its national program produced in Manhattan. David sees this as an opportunity to boost his net worth, regain the respect of his estranged wife and become a better father figure to his kids. Still, the prospect amounts to more pressure than good tidings, so his depression continues. Before making the leap to the big time, he must resolve some major daddy issues, teach his daughter archery and kick a certain drug counselor’s ass.

While the film has great visual moments, its story isn’t engaging. It’s just another midlife crisis movie hiding behind the weather man gimmick. The film goes for laughs by lampooning the weather guy routine, but its attempts at being clever fall flat.

This is due in part to an underwhelming performance by Cage, who dials his emotional meter down to somber and basically stays in that mode, excepting for the occasional temper outbursts. On a positive note, his characterization of David Spritz qualifies as a so-so performance. Not really bad, but not good either. That’s decent news for Cage because he’s usually either great in a movie (Matchstick Men, Adaptation) or horribly bad (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Snake Eyes). Rarely does his work fall somewhere in between.

The supporting performances, other than Davis doing her usual crabby routine, are good. Peña is terrific as the young girl who wants to bow hunt animals for unexplained reasons. Hoult delivers good stuff with his little screen time as the neglected son who still has plenty of kind words for his father. Caine, who was greatness in this year’s Batman Begins, gives the film’s arguably best performance as the stoic, understated dad who wants his son to find more value in life. Perhaps they should’ve upped his screen time and called this one The Weather Man’s Far More Interesting Father.

Not surprisingly, Verbinski does come up with many moments that qualify as visual gems. The aforementioned milk shake calamities are classically funny, and it’s a shame they didn’t appear in a better movie. The sight of apple pies, tacos and soda pops careening off Cage is always funny, and the extra slow motion makes the moments all the more traumatic. Verbinski also throws in a sequence with SpongeBob Squarepants that is quite memorable.

These moments don’t amount to much of the film’s running time, which is occupied mostly by run-of-the-mill melodrama and malaise. The movie had an earlier release date postponed. One might’ve suspected the studio made that move to get the Cage performance out near the end of the year, when Oscar contending films are usually released. In actuality, it seems that The Weather Man was postponed for an altogether different reason: It kind of stinks.