by David Cornelius
I refuse to believe that somewhere in Hollywood, there was a writer with a fire in his belly and an insatiable itch to tell the story of five cheerleaders who witness a murder and the gruff cop who must go undercover as a cheerleading coach to protect them.No, “Man of the House” - no relation to the 1995 Chevy Chase movie of the same name - is one of those pictures that’s not written, but designed by committee. It has the sort of brainless, easily pitchable concept that only come from a handful of producers sharing lunch one sunny afternoon, trying to figure out an easy comedy that’ll make a quick buck. The screenplay isn’t the result of a creative miracle, but one of appointment: four writers share credit for turning this limp idea into a limp script.
"The premise says that 'comedy ensues.' The premise is lying to us."
This project is then passed off to director/studio goon Stephen Herek, who (not counting his first two films, the goofy “Critters” and the brilliant “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”) has wound up making a career out of pumping out such mediocre works. Consider his resumé: “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead,” “The Mighty Ducks,” “The Three Musketeers,” “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” “101 Dalmatians,” “Holy Man,” “Rock Star,” “Life or Something Like It.” (Just typing that list, I think I threw up in my mouth a little.) Herek’s movies are lifeless messes, the kind of movies that the people in “development” think we want to see, because the people in “development” think we’re flaming idiots.
To the film’s credit, it’s not quite as bad as I may have made it sound, although it’s none too watchable, and definitely none too memorable. The only relief from the terrible is Tommy Lee Jones, playing the gruff cop (a Texas ranger, actually) who is, essentially, the same stone faced straight man he’s played in every movie for years. Jones manages to make a few of the less obnoxious jokes slightly workable, thanks to a delivery that could only come from an expert actor who’s spent decades honing his craft. (And oh, how that honed craft is so very wasted here…)
Everything else? Well, let’s examine the many, many ways in which “Man of the House” goes wrong, starting with the plot itself, which manages to make zero sense, considering that the cheerleaders never really see the killer, meaning that they’d never actually be able to testify about him, meaning that there’s no reason for them to be witnesses, really, meaning there’s no reason for Jones’ character to protect them. Normally, plot holes this wide are forgivable in a comedy that asks us to forget about logic and go with the fun. But a) it’s too big a logic gap to ignore, and b) there’s no fun with which to go.
In fact, all the fun here seems to have been replaced by obnoxiousness. Scene after scene asks for Jones to look perturbed at the girls’ flaky behavior - but there’s nothing in the flaky behavior that’s actually funny. In fact, Jones’ reactions to the girls, which I suppose are meant to be hilarious in their sternness, are pretty much how we, the audience, responds as well; form start to finish, the movie runs on a “can’t you just shut the frick up?” vibe. Jones looks as aggravated as we feel.
Then there’s the clumsy way in which the screenplay finds itself bringing in action sequences. In order to set the story up (and, later, keep the plot moving), we’re asked to sit through way too many action scenes that never actually thrill. They’re merely by-the-numbers affairs, scenes that reek of their obligatory nature. And yeah, the finale has to provide more action, again merely for plot purposes, and it’s about as unexciting as a car chase and shootout can possibly be.
In fact, “obligatory” is the word to best describe the whole thing. The plotlines involving the gruff cop’s strained relationship with his daughter and his slowly blossoming acceptance of these kooky girls (plus other, even weaker subplots) come at us in the most artificial manner possible. Nothing happens here because it could, or should; everything only happens here only because stuff like this is what always happens in this kind of movie, and the screenwriters aren’t about to be bothered with trying anything new.
Yet it’s the little moments, really, that drag the movie down for the count. Little moments that come from so far out of nowhere that they feel as if they belong in some other, even dumber movie. Moments like an early scene in which Jones has to retrieve a cell phone from the interior of a cow. Moments like a dance-off between the cheerleaders and Cedric the Entertainer, here playing a crooked man of the cloth whose character feels like he was added in during the fourth re-write. Moments like a montage of the girls preparing Jones for his dinner date with Anne Archer, during which the soundtrack actually bothers to cue up “I’m Too Sexy.”Yes, boys and girls, this is a comedy that, in the year 2005, thinks a montage set to Right Said Fred’s greatest hit would be hysterical. That’s the sort of movie “Man of the House” is. I think we as a moviegoing nation can say for certainty that we don’t need any more comedies with Right Said Fred songs in them. And we don’t need any more comedies as mindless, pointless, and soulless as “Man of the House.”
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=11769&reviewer=392
originally posted: 07/19/05 17:54:33