This week's release of the new Eddie Murphy comedy Imagine That is a reminder that Hollywood can't really imagine much. The plot -- which casts Murphy as a workaholic financial manager and divorced dad who realizes that her daughter's "imaginary friends" may be able to offer fail-safe stock tips -- continues a long recent tradition of movies that take the basic ingredients from Dickens' A Christmas Carol and turn them into broad, often fantastical comedy. I've dubbed them the "What Really Matters" comedies, in honor of the inevitable moral to the story. Name a significant comic movie star of the last 25 years, and chances are good that he has starred in at least one (if not more) such high-concept vehicles.
As just a flavor of what I'm talking about, here's a Mad Libs-style basic plot sketch. See if you can name the film -- all since the early 1990s -- based on the fill-in-the-blank elements. Note: This isn't even a comprehensive list. Answers will be posted tomorrow, just in case commenters want to take stab at it.
[Actor] plays a/an [adjective] [job title] whose actions often result in neglecting [relationship/family noun]. After [catalyzing event], our hero [wacky plot twist]. Many misadventures ensue, ultimately leading him to realize that [platitude].
1. Jim Carrey, dishonest, attorney, his son, his son’s birth day wish, realizes he can’t tell a lie, family is the most important thing in life.
2. Michael Keaton, workaholic, construction foreman, wife and kids, meeting an eccentric scientist, decides to clone himself, family is the most important thing in life.
3. Steve Martin, workaholic, attorney, estranged wife and kids, beginning an online interaction with a woman, realizes that she’s really a sassy ex-con, family is the most important thing in life.
4. James Caan, workaholic, publishing executive, wife and son, discovering that he has another biological son, discovers that the other son has been raised by elves at the North Pole, family is the most important thing in life.
5. Arnold Schwarzenegger, workaholic, salesman, wife and son, forgetting to buy the popular toy his son wants for Christmas, must spend Christmas eve on a city-wide search for the toy, family is the most important thing in life.
6. Adam Sandler, workaholic, architect, wife and kids, meeting an eccentric inventor, receives a remote control that allows him to control time, family is the most important thing in life.
7. Robin Williams, unemployed, voice actor, wife and kids, his wife gets custody of the kids, decides to disguise himself as a female nanny, family is the most important thing in life.
8. Nicolas Cage, workaholic, investment banker, everyone else, going to bed one night, magically wakes up in the middle of a suburban wife-and-kids life, family is the most important thing in life.