Sony // 1994 // 101 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // April 29th, 2009
It's not about money. It's about life.
"It's like we're on two different channels now. I'm CNN and she's the Home Shopping Network."
Charlie Lang (Nicolas Cage, Face/Off) is just an ordinary police officer who loves helping people. You'll constantly see Charlie helping little old ladies across the street, scolding local pickpockets, and teaching young kids how to play stickball. He's just that kind of guy. One day, Charlie stops into a local restaurant for a quick bite to eat. When he receives the check, he realizes that he doesn't have enough money to give the Yvonne the waitress (Bridget Fonda, Jackie Brown) a tip. As an apology, Charlie says, "Look, I've got this lottery ticket. If I win, I'll come back tomorrow and split the winnings with you. If I don't win, I'll come back tomorrow and give you a double-sized tip." Yvonne rolls her eyes and shrugs.
Sure enough, that very night Charlie winds up winning the lottery. His wife Muriel (Rosie Perez, Pineapple Express) is ecstatic that her goodie-two-shoes husband has finally done something to bring money into the house, but she's furious when she learns of his agreement with the waitress. "Do you love me?" she snaps. "If you love me, stiff her. Stiff her and keep all the money." Being the noble sort of person that he is, Charlie does not stiff Yvonne, but agrees to give her half of his $4 million jackpot. Initially, this makes Charlie an instant celebrity. Everyone is awed by his generosity, and the local newspapers hail him as a saint. However, the story has only just begun. There are complications ahead: people asking for money, Yvonne's grubby estranged husband (Stanley Tucci, The Terminal), a wealthy millionaire (Seymour Cassel, Faces) with eyes for Muriel, messy romantic feelings between Charlie and Yvonne, nasty legal battles, and a mysterious man named Angel (Isaac Hayes, Soul Men). Will the money bring Charlie and Yvonne happiness or misery?
I'm not so sure that it could happen to you. Well, maybe it could happen to you, but it couldn't happen to me, and it's very unlikely that it would actually happen to you. That's because It Could Happen to You is an ostensibly real-life scenario that is actually little more than a Hollywood fantasy. I like a good romance as much as the next person, but why is it that so many cinematic romances over the years (particularly over the course of the past couple decades) have been so thoroughly artificial, contrived, and completely lacking any sort of connection to the real world?
It Could Happen to You is indeed a romance, despite the plot set-up that might convince you it is an examination of the effects of suddenly having a lot of money. Studies of greed and generosity are indeed onhand here, but as the film progresses these elements are pushed into the background in favor of focusing on the budding love story between Charlie and Yvonne. This is a disappointment, as I think there was a good film to be made about winning the lottery. Have you heard all the stories about lottery winners whose lives became considerably more miserable after they received the money? Such issues are only touched on briefly here, as everything ultimately gives way to the obligatory ultra-happy ending.
The romance also encounters a common problem in many romantic films: both Charlie and Yvonne are married. Hollywood romances more or less have two ways of dealing with such an obstacle. The first way is to have the two spouses/partners find happiness in the arms of someone else while the two protagonists are finding happiness in the arms of each other. That way, when the news of the break-up is announced, everyone is cheerful and happy (see You've Got Mail as an example). The other way is to make the two spouses/partners so thoroughly unpleasant and evil that leaving them seems to be the only logical choice. That's the road It Could Happen to You chooses to take.
On Charlie's side, we have Muriel. The fact that she is played by Rosie Perez may tell you all you need to know. Perez screams, screeches, stomps, and smirks her way towards creating an incredibly obnoxious character. She is a horrible person in every single way: greedy, self-serving, corrupt, and mean-spirited. Only a saint like Charlie could have put up with her so long. On Yvonne's side, we have a very greasy Stanley Tucci, who exhibits similar characteristics to Yvonne in a more low-key, sleazy manner. Meanwhile, Nicolas Cage and Bridget Fonda are both so thoroughly noble that we keep expecting to see halos appear above their heads at any moment. I'm sure they would be very nice people to meet in real life, but they're not terribly interesting as characters. I've never been a big fan of Cage in "earnest nice guy" mode (think Con Air or World Trade Center), as he can't quite manage to make that particular note compelling.
The hi-def transfer here is rather disappointment. There's a surprisingly large measure of grain throughout the entire film, particularly during some of the earlier scenes. The level of detail (background, facial and otherwise) is particularly disappointing, as there are numerous moments where I would have sworn I was watching a standard-def disc. Flesh tones seem slightly off, and the image often seems much too soft. A steady stream of minor scratches and flecks can be found throughout, in addition to some smudges at various points. It's really a pretty crummy transfer. Audio is okay, though I was still disappointed by the lack of strong distribution. There's nothing particularly interesting or immersive here (and nothing to make your subwoofer even so much as clear its throat). I've always regarded Carter Burwell as one of the best composers in terms of finding a specific sound for a film, but here he kind of turns in a generic romantic comedy effort that feels flat and uninspired. There are no extras of any sort included on the disc.
It's not a horrible film, but why can't I think of anything positive to say about it? There are no real positive achievements here, just varying levels of disappointment.
And your winning numbers are...C...R...U...M...M...Y...huh, letters instead of numbers are appearing on the ping-pong balls for some reason. Weird. You all lose, I guess.
Review content copyright © 2009 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (French)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Rated PG