The headfuck concept of parallel lifelines has long been a favourite of sci-fi but only recently has it crossed over to other, less likely genres. Sliding Doors polished it with a rom-com sheen, fleet-footed thriller Run Lola Run gave us threepossible outcomes to a problem and Me Myself I plonked the What If? idea firmly down into drama, as a career-minded journalist inexplicably swaps places with her alternate, domestic self.
The last is probably the film that fewest people saw - to the delight of the makers of The Family Man, which is very similar. But before the who-ripped-off-who debate begins, let's just settle things by saying it doesn't matter. The Family Man is the better of the two - although not by enough to ensure anyone will still be discussing it in 10 years' time.
Brett Ratner's follow-up to Rush Hour gift-wraps a dream role for its star, allowing Cage to meld his pre- and post-Oscar personae. Thus we're treated to Nic Cage, the downbeat yet quirky character actor looking suitably bemused as he flounders in his new existence. Then we get Nic Cage, action hero, screaming and throwing his arms about whenever Jack vents spleen.
But The Family Man is at its strongest when he's able to parade his other well-known side: Nic Cage, deadpan comedian. Exhibit A: Jack's face when he first opens his wardrobe to find polyester shirts. Exhibit B: Jack's face while changing a soiled nappy. Exhibit C: Jack's face... You get the picture. It's during this light-hearted mid section that the film really finds its range, with the restrained humour and unforced theme - do clothes make the man? - weaving seamlessly together to form a truly substantial comedy.
And then, with the ending in sight, it all goes wrong. Partly it's because Ratner ignores said ending and sails blithely on for another 20 superfluous minutes, but mostly it's because he allows a flood of sentiment to gush in. Which is a shame, because what could have been an enchanting Christmas dish concludes as just another plate of Hollywood gloop. And they serve those all year round.
A bright rom-com that makes a pleasant change from the glut of smart-arsed high-school teen flicks and Gross And Grosser no-brainers doing the cinematic rounds. If only it came without the heavy side order of syrup...