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Hello, and welcome back to Second Chances where I give the maligned and forgotten another shot at the spotlight.
As I write this, Christmas was three days ago. Though a lot of various things have become commonplace at Christmas over the years, one movie that has become traditional for people to watch every year is Frank Capra's classic It's a Wonderful Life. The story of a man discovering how he touched the lives of many is the very definition of inspirational. Needless to say, such a popular and universal message is ripe for copying, and there have been tons of copycats over the years. Even Married... With Children spoofed it back in 1989. However, my favorite take on the idea is a mostly forgotten 1990 comedy-drama called Mr. Destiny.
The George Bailey character in this one is Larry Burrows, played by Jim Belushi. He has a decent but unfinished home in the suburbs of Indianapolis, a devoted wife (played by Linda Hamilton), an okay but unfulfilling job, and his goofy best friend (played by Jon Lovitz). However, he could never let go of his biggest childhood failure where he struck out in a championship baseball game, letting his whole town down. On his 35th birthday, his car breaks down outside a bar run by an unusually insightful bartender named Mike (played by the legendary Michael Caine). Before he knew it, Larry got to see how his life would've been different if he won that game in his youth. Naturally, the supposedly perfect life that would've resulted is not all it's cracked up to be.
Of course, I didn't have to bother with a spoiler alert as everyone knows the plot of It's a Wonderful Life by now. In many ways, Mr. Destiny is a copy of the formula. However, there are a few key differences that set this one apart. First, this one isn't a Christmas movie. It takes place in the summer and revolves around baseball. So, this is one that can be seen anytime. Second, the stakes are very different. George wished he was never born, and the life Clarence showed him afterward was very dark and depressing, including numerous deaths that occurred because he was never there. In this one, a seemingly minor moment in Larry's youth was changed to a different outcome. Even though the results aren't as dark, the weight is felt all the same. That's because of the third and biggest difference from the original film, the timing. Despite Clarence showing George the different world being the most famous part of the story, it doesn't actually happen until the last act of the movie. Hence, the consequences have to get rammed through in a short amount of time to leave room for George to run through Bedford Falls screaming, "Merry Christmas!" In Mr. Destiny, the change occurs near the beginning of the movie. This allows Larry the chance to live in the new reality and slowly learn the drawbacks to the point that he wants to return to his old life. I prefer the longer payoff of Mr. Destiny over the rush of It's a Wonderful Life.
The performances all around are excellent. Jim Belushi toned down his usual snark, providing a moving performance. Even though I referred to this one as a "comedy-drama," the comedy is restrained somewhat, never overpowering the story, and it works to the movie's benefit. The cast is overloaded with top talent from Linda Hamilton and Courtney Cox to Rene Russo and Jon Lovitz, and almost all of the performances hit the mark. The only issue I have is with the film's antagonist Niles, played by Hart Bochner. Despite the restrained performances from everyone else, Bochner played Niles a bit too over-the-top. It didn't fit the tone of the rest of the movie. The special effects are very cheap even for the time, but otherwise the directing and cinematography are rock-solid...just like It's a Wonderful Life now that I think about it.
For those who had gotten sick of George and Clarence, Mr. Destiny is a wonderful alternative. It has less set-up and more payoff than the older film, and the light comedy works without diluting the inspirational message. Give this one a watch, and you don't even have to wait until next Christmas to do it!
What do you think? Know anything else that deserves a Second Chance? Let me know, and take care!