The 1990 comedy Mr. Destiny is centered around the notion that, if you change one key event in a person’s life, the whole life changes. It’s a familiar, often-visited premise in movies; It’s a Wonderful Life did it on such a grand scale (with the event being the life happening at all) that it’s spawned almost as many imitators as Elvis Presley. With a few rare exceptions, the genre consists of some apparently-luckless individual wishing on one simple change to their past that would make everything better. Their wish is granted, and initially it seems wonderful, and then they start to see the bad side of things and just how good their actual life really was by comparison.
In some alternate life, perhaps I chose to watch a different film than Mr. Destiny tonight. I’d like to think that other Morgan might have been some tiny bit happier for it, but who knows? Maybe he got stuck watching Jack and Jill instead.
OK, I’m sorry. That was a stupid thing to say. That would never happen.
Mr. Destiny stars James Belushi, forever cursed by destiny to be remembered as “the other brother”. I do think this is more than a little unfair to him; it’s hardly his fault John died, and he shouldn’t be expected to have the same comedic style. Personally, I think that in the right work, he’d probably be pretty good. Sadly, this isn’t really that work. Belushi stars as Larry Burrows, a man who works in accounting for a sports equipment manufacturer. He has a loving wife, Ellen (Linda Hamilton), and a childhood best friend, “Clip” (Jon Lovitz) who works with him and keeps him sane with goofy jokes. But he feels like his life is dreary, and it only gets worse when he discovers that the Vice President (Hart Bochner) is planning a hostile takeover of the company. The President is a self-proclaimed “Cement Head” who only got the position by marrying the owner’s daughter Cindy Jo (Rene Russo), and the owner (Bill McCutcheon) is old and a bit addle-pated, apparently enough to sign over his shares of the company with some prodding. When Larry discovers this, the VP discovers him rifling through the files, and fires him. On the way home, his car breaks down. It’s been that kind of a day, and it being his 35th birthday only adds to the dismay (because, of course, this kind of story seldom settles for just any old day.)
Any day in which you have to chew your coffee is going to be a bad day.
Going into a bar to call a tow truck, he strikes up a conversation with the bartender, Mike (Michael Caine). Larry can’t help but think about another birthday, his 15th, when he was playing in the last game of the high school baseball season. His team was on the cusp of making it to the championships, 9th inning, 2 outs, one point down, a man on base, and — of course — he was at bat, with two strikes. All down to him, on one swing. Hero or goat. The pitcher threw, he swung, he missed. He spent the rest of the night as the goat, and in his mind, the rest of his life. He wonders what his life would have been like if he had been the hero. And Mike, mixing up a special drink, shows him.
Larry quickly finds that in this alternate life, things are indeed better, at least on the surface. Instead of going down to the lockers and crying, and meeting Ellen there, the hero of the game took the Prom Queen, Cindy Jo, to the dance and eventually married her. Marrying the owner’s daughter makes him the President of Liberty Republic Sporting Goods. He’s a millionaire. All those cars he built models of, he now owns for real. But he’s bewildered, as well, and not just because his life has been changed around like a switch had been flipped. He doesn’t remember any of this, he remembers his old life. He quickly misses Ellen, his original-reality wife. And it quickly becomes apparent that alternate-Larry wasn’t a very good person. This Larry was cooperating with the Vice President’s takeover. The union rep — Ellen — hates him because of the way he’s fired people and doubled their work loads. He was cheating on his wife with a psychotic mistress (Courteney Cox). Clip is a nervous wreck, thinks his old friend has forgotten him, and at one point nearly jumps off a building in despair.
Learning that other peoples’ lives are better off because you’re in them is fairly reassuring. Learning that one change to your life would have made you the bane of their existence is somewhat less so.
Unfortunately, we spend so little time with these characters in either life that it’s hard to care very much about any of them. And without the context of those other characters, it’s hard to care very much about Larry. He’s just a somewhat bland reasonably nice guy, who apparently in this other life wasn’t a nice guy. There’s not much personality in any of these characters for any of the actors — who are mostly a fairly talented bunch — to work with. The standout here is Hart Bochner, who makes the Vice President very convincing as a slime-ball, but even that’s a pretty generic role. I feel like the talents of the cast were largely wasted on this script. I’d feel some sorrow for Bill McCutcheon because this was his last movie, but considering his first was Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, this was still a net positive for him.
But for me, as a viewer, the movie comes in just a bit on the negative side of the ledger. There are some funny bits here and there, but they’re few and far between. Again, it’s not the actors; there just isn’t anything in the script for them to work with. There’s not enough that’s meant to be funny for this to be funny, and yet it is clearly meant to be a comedy rather than a drama or anything else. But the whole thing is as tepid and dreary as Larry thought his life was. It’s not terrible. It’s all just sort of beige.