''The Weather Man" finds Nicolas Cage in a self-pitying mood. In the past, this would have been happy news. Cage in a funk was good for ''Leaving Las Vegas" and ''Adaptation." Even in a movie as imbalanced as Martin Scorsese's ''Bringing Out the Dead," Cage's depression soulfully complemented Scorsese's mania. Those movies gave Cage an opportunity to be inventive and inspired. ''The Weather Man" gives him license to drift for nearly two hours like a parade float.
Cage plays a Chicago TV weatherman who mopes from one scene to the next in a fog of depression. His name, Dave Spritz, sounds heckle-worthy. Dave's ex-wife, Noreen (Hope Davis), is annoyed with him. His father (Michael Caine) is an award-winning author who's never supported him. His teenage daughter, Shelly (Gemmenne de la Pena), is overweight (a crime in the movies). His son (Nicholas Hoult) misbehaves. And when viewers -- irate over Dave's inaccurate forecasts -- spot him trudging down the street, they chuck things at him: milkshakes, soda, chicken nuggets. Were ''The Weather Man" purely abut Dave's random victimization and the catharsis people feel in harassing him, the movie would have touched on a weirdly unique cultural phenomenon.
But Dave also has to deal with bad family news. Papa Spritz is dying, and Noreen is seeing someone new. Dave doesn't do much about these developments. He drives his father to the doctor. He enrolls Shelly in an archery class that he winds up taking instead. He sits around with a blank look on his face.
Dave is one of the most ineffectual characters ever to have an entire movie built around him. It looked like the trend of crippling anomie in immature American men (better known as ''emo") had reached its watershed at the movies with ''Garden State" and died with ''Elizabethtown." Now it's infecting wildly successful middle-age men, like Dave.
The film takes too many of its cues from Dave's depression. As it slogs on, the movie's cloudiness starts to feel funereal, which is odd since writer Steven Conrad aims for comedy, possibly even satire. The very best dialogue is vulgar, as when Noreen explains to Dave why she was such a monotonous sex partner for the duration of their marriage. That encounter feels bracing because someone is actually being honest with Dave. Davis is good in these reality-check parts, having played versions of them in ''About Schmidt" and ''Proof." I just worry that her indelicacy, however necessary it is, will turn audiences against her.
But ''The Weather Man" needs more of her exasperation. The movie finds Dave's malaise bittersweet and ironic. Never mind that he's a sad sack off the air. His career rises anyway, like a let-go party balloon: He gets a job offer to do the weather on a national show that Bryant Gumbel hosts.
Throughout ''The Weather Man" you wait for director Gore Verbinski (''The Ring," ''Pirates of the Caribbean") to fill the movie's exquisite framing with the emotional or psychological equivalent of Phedon Papamichael's (''Sideways") cinematography. Instead, we get a vague movie that a few successful but chronically dissatisfied men will be able to call their own. The rest of us will see the film for what it is: a long, cold mumble from the heart.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.