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In The Weather Man, it's, well, pretty much just the weather man and the weather man. This ungifted Chicago TV personality ("My job's very easy, two hours a day, basically reading prompts"), accustomed to getting pelted on the street with fast-food items thrown by passing motorists, has a number of private-life burdens and aggravations: a Pulitzer Prize-winning father dying of lymphoma before the fortyish son has a chance to impress him (the mother, though alive and well, scarcely merits a glance); an ex-wife who has already found herself a new man; a teenage son in rehab, with a homosexual predator for his drug counselor; and an overweight daughter whose form-fitting clothes in the crotch area have earned her the nickname of "Camel-Toe" (an educational montage illustrates the phenomenon). But it's significant that the movie opens with our mopey solipsist gazing at himself in the mirror, and significant, too, that it tells so much of its story in the form of his first-person narration. Given that the person is Nicolas Cage, and given that Lord of War was less than two months ago, it seems we've spent a lot of time lately listening to Nicolas Cage tell tales. One stream-of-consciousness passage, not really narration but interior monologue, almost makes the whole thing worthwhile: a flashback to the time he was sent to the deli to pick up some tartar sauce with a to-go order. He starts out with a clear focus on his assignment ("Tartar sauce, tartar sauce, tartar sauce, tartar sauce..."), but the sight of a shapely bottom in a pair of blue jeans at the crosswalk sets him off on a free-associative riff that takes his mind a long way from a condiment. Cage, distancing himself from his action-hero persona, plays the part as a classic sadsack with glimmers of existentialist awareness, and he never remotely looks like someone who would have caught the eye of the network for a million-dollar job on Bryant Gumbel's morning show. His director, Gore Verbinski, ensures he won't look like that with an overcast image that appears to encase him in tinted or frosted glass.

All these relationships, and don't forget those of An Unfinished Life, Proof, In Her Shoes, Elizabethtown, and The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, signal one thing above all. No, not an evolutionary new maturity in the movie business, but only the annual autumn turn into the last lap of the Oscar race.

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