Mr Destiny (1990)

screenshot from Mr Destiny

Directed by: James Orr
Screenwriter(s): James Orr, Jim Cruickshank
Starring: James Belushi, Linda Hamilton, Michael Caine, Jon Lovitz, Hart Bochner, Bill McCutcheon, Rene Russo, Jay O Sanders, Maury Chaykin, Pat Corley, Courtney Cox
Genre: Comedy
Country: USA
Running time: 1h 50m
Rating: 4 out of 10

Mr Destiny is not a Christmas film. It’s not. It’s very specifically set in June. We know this because the opening voiceover from Larry Burrows (Belushi) tells us that it’s 14 June 1990, his thirty-fifth birthday, and then he takes us back twenty years to show us what Larry considers to be the worst moment of his life, when he missed the game-winning hit in a championship baseball game with the entire town watching on 14 June 1970. So, we’re definitely in June. But, Mr Destiny is also quite obviously a play on It’s a Wonderful Life, The Family Man and all of those Christmas TV movies where we see how different life would have been ‘if only’.

It’s not a great Christmas film, not just because it’s not set at Christmas, but also because it takes a pretty big-name cast and wastes them in a passable TV movie. This sort of movie usually works on the basis of unlikeable rich person (e.g Nancy McKeon in Comfort and Joy) being transplanted into the life they would have had if they hadn’t left the Old Home Town to seek their fortune in the Big City and learning some Important Life Lessons. Mr Destiny subverts this by having a supposedly Likeable Everyman seeing what it would be like to be rich and learning Important Life Lessons – except that the Larry we are first introduced to isn’t that likeable.

Larry works at the local sporting goods factory, as does everyone he knows: his wife, Ellen (Hamilton, whose character’s full name is Ellen J Ripley, a nod to her then-husband’s Aliens films); his best friend, Clip (Lovitz); his father, Harry (Corley); and his high school crush, Cindy Jo, the boss’s daughter (Russo). He’s got a dog with a bladder problem, a contractor (Chaykin) who is happy to take money from him without bothering to do any work on his house, and a sleazy boss who might be trying to sell the company to the Japanese (Bochner, who is pretty much reprising his Die Hard role as ‘smarmy exec’). They’re out of his favourite cereal, his car is falling to pieces, his wife has a agreed to attend a strike meeting on the night of his birthday and, while attempting to look into his boss’s treachery, he caps off his day by getting fired.

When Larry’s car dies on a dead-end street, he goes into a conveniently open bar, in which he’s the only customer, and shares all of these woes with the barman, Mike (Caine). Mike offers him a mystery drink called a Spilt Milk (‘the one drink there’s no use crying over’) and Larry wishes aloud that he’d swung on the potentially game-winning ball just half a second quicker because then he’d be king of the world. There’s some twinkly music and the audience, who’ve seen this kind of movie before, now know that Larry’s wish has been fulfilled, but Larry takes some time to catch on, even after visiting his old house and finding someone else living there. Mike shows up as a cabbie and tries to explain the Butterfly Effect to poor Larry, and takes him to his now-home, an absolute mansion, and his new family, Cindy Jo and two kids, and his massive classic car collection and his butler and his fancy party of several hundred people.

We’ve all seen Christmas films before, many of them better than this one, so we all know that Larry is going to be in turns bemused, bewildered and bedazzled by his glorious new life as LJ Burrows, one of life’s winners, and we also know that Larry is going to almost as quickly start missing his old life and wishing that things were a bit more like they used to be.

James Belushi now goes by Jim because that’s a much more sitcom-friendly name for his current TV celebrity brand. I haven’t seen any of his TV work, but I’m guessing that, if you like that, then you’ll probably like this because it is – again, I can’t say this enough – a TV-level Christmas movie. If you don’t like Jim Belushi, then you’re out of luck, because he’s in every single scene of this movie. Neither Linda Hamilton nor Michael Caine are in the movie enough, and the whole affair is curiously sexist in a way that would have been unremarkable in 1990, but feels just a bit creepy now.

In short, if this movie is on TV, and there’s nothing else better on, it’ll pass your time. If you want to see a decent ‘What If’ Christmas film, watch It’s a Wonderful Life or The Family Man or even Comfort and Joy instead.