Anyone who's ever logged serious time in Chicago will know the slightly desolate feeling of traveling along Lake Shore Drive in the winter, looking out over the churning ice floes of Lake Michigan. The Weather Man, Gore Verbinski's forlorn domestic drama, begins with an image of that frozen sludge, the city's skyline poking up in the distance; to the film's credit, it constantly tries to come up with additional visual metaphors for its hero's constipated state of stasis. (He's a TV meteorologist estranged from his wife and kids.) That it doesn't always succeed as elegantly isn't a sign of creative weakness, but rather of a surfeit of strong ideas alongside mediocre ones.
As played by Nicolas Cage, easing into his career's middle-aged-schlub roles with a rekindled sense of humor, David Spitz bears an almost palpable weight of failed promise. His malaise is no doubt compounded by the overbearing presence of his Pulitzer-winning novelist dad (an understated Caine) and the contempt of his bitter, beautiful wife (Davis), who is adjusting to their separation with confidence. While David's attempts to reconnect with his troubled teenage kids—one's a recovering drug addict, the other's overweight—make up the film's main thrust, too often those exchanges are opportunities for easy, ironic, American Beauty--style yucks. Much more successful is Verbinski's Mamet-like direction of dialogue that cuts to David's existential crisis: "It's just wind, man," a newsroom colleague says. "It blows stuff around." You'd think a weather man would understand these things; David nearly falls in a crying heap.—Joshua Rothkopf