The biggest laugh in "Mr. Destiny" isn't found on the screen. It's in the press kit, information on the film that is sent by the movie studio to critics, which explains that this is "an original screenplay."
Few major movies are as derivative as this one.In fact, some wags are saying "Mr. Destiny" should be called "Taking Care of Business II," since both feature James Belushi as a baseball nut - and Chicago Cubs fan - who finds himself suddenly living a very wealthy lifestyle he doesn't quite know how to take.
But "Mr. Destiny" has bigger films it wishes to rip off. This is "It's a Wonderful Life" meets "The Natural," with Belushi as a businessman married to his high school sweetheart (Linda Hamilton, of TV's "Beauty and the Beast") trying to live down the fact that he struck out and blew the high school championship ballgame years before. (Gee, that sounds a bit like Robin Williams' dilemma in "The Best of Times," doesn't it?)
Belushi wonders what life would have been like if he'd hit that ball, and he gets a chance to find out when he encounters "Mr. Destiny," in the form of Michael Caine, who is bartending at the Universal Joint downtown. Caine listens sympathetically to Belushi's lamentations about being forgotten on his 35th birthday, and gee, if he'd only hit that ball in high school.
Then he serves him a special drink - "the spilt milk" - and suddenly, like James Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life," Belushi finds that to the rest of the world he did hit that ball, and his life and the lives of those around him are quite different as a result.
For one thing, he's no longer married to Hamilton. Now he's married to the high school prom queen, whose father owns the town's biggest business, and he's living in a mansion with his wife and two stiff-necked children.
The rest is quite predictable, of course, as Belushi realizes how much he loves Hamilton and his old life and so he spends the rest of the movie trying to get it back.
The major problem here is that the film is surprisingly soft in its comedy, with few big laughs and a semi-dramatic, sentimental tone that becomes mawkish. Director and co-screenwriter James Orr, best known for the uneven "Tough Guys" and the screenplay for the very popular "Three Men and a Baby," would have had a much better movie simply by punching up the laughs and going for satire.
It's almost saved by the cast, however, with Belushi delivering another solid everyman performance that is funny, witty and bright, and Caine is delightful, periodically popping up to offer sage advice to Belushi. Caine's presence helps immensely, but he really has a very small role.
Linda Hamilton is very good as Belushi's blue-collar wife, then the sophisticated woman he can't have. And Jon Lovitz provides some amusement in the film's early scenes as Belushi's goofy best friend. Rene Russo, as Belushi's new wife, has little to do, and Courtney Cox, in a broad comic role, is merely a caricature. Hart Bochner, as the chief villain, does his standard sneering yuppie routine.
One annoying aspect here is that "Mr. Destiny" could qualify as an enjoyable family film for parents and their children to see together, except that it has an awful lot of profanity, which seems unnecessary in a film like this.
"Mr. Destiny" is rated PG-13 for profanity, some violence, vulgarity and sexual innuendo.