Man of the House (United States, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The men in black at Columbia Pictures made the right decision when they elected not to screen Man of the House for critics. The film fails in so many ways that it's impossible to imagine it getting more than a handful of positive reviews; all but the most fawning quote whores might consider withholding praise. The movie is an "action comedy" in name only - there's nothing in Man of the House that could be considered funny or exciting. 90 minutes with a few routine chase sequences but without a single laugh represents a poor way to spend a looooooong evening.

Tommy Lee Jones plays Roland Sharp, a no-nonsense, emotionally closed-off Texas Ranger given the unenviable job of babysitting five college cheerleaders who are witnesses to a murder. These five are personality clones. Initially, they are presented as satirically drawn stereotypes of "typical" cheerleaders (vapid, fashion conscious, obsessed with hair and looks). Later, when the screenplay makes a feeble attempt to give them individual traits, it's too late. Aside from their looks, it's impossible to tell them apart. Anne (Christina Milian), Therese (Paula Garcés), Evie (Monica Keena), Barb (Kelli Garner), and Heather (Vanessa Ferlito) are as indistinguishable as they are uninteresting. The movie gets its mileage by setting Roland adrift in an unfamiliar sea of femininity and trying to impose his strict sense of order on things. Of course, bonding occurs, so by the time the bad guy (Brian Van Holt) tries to off the cheerleaders, Roland feels like an assault has occurred on his daughters. Then, to add insult to injury, his real daughter (Shannon Marie Woodward) is kidnapped by the black-hearted villain and taken on a bus ride towards the Mexican border.

One amazing thing about Man of the House is that it manages to neuter Cedric the Entertainer's capacity for humor. Admittedly, the comedian is only in three segments and his total screen time is about 10 minutes, but not even he is able to deliver a legitimate laugh. (Most of the time, he's forcing his pudgy frame to do faux cheerleading moves - the problem is more in the execution than the concept, because it sounds amusing.) Tommy Lee Jones plays the straight man, but, since there's no one for him to play off, he comes across as taciturn and unlikable. Where's Will Smith when you need him? The girls are cute, but none leaves a lasting impression. And Anne Archer must be hard up if this is the best role she can get - a turn as a forgettable love interest who serves no real purpose.

It's hard to imagine how certain things in this film could seem funny, even on paper. Consider these winners: Tommy Lee Jones with his hand up a cow's rectum, Jones trying to roller skate to "Dancing Queen," Jones buying tampons, Jones patting down the pizza delivery boy for weapons, Jones with cucumber slices on his eyes and an avocado face mask. Are you laughing yet? These are only a few of the film's numerous would-be comedic set pieces that fall flat. There are more messy thuds in Man of the House than in a forest that is being clear-cut.

And, as in seemingly all action comedies, there's the obligatory dramatic angle. In this case, it's Roland and the girls overcoming their respective prejudices and learning to care for one another. Difficult as it was, I managed to control my gag reflex as this was playing out on screen. How filmmakers could believe viewers would feel anything for these characters is a wonder. Jones and the girls are like pawns being jerked around by an inexperienced chess player. Director Stephen Herek is not new to Hollywood, but considering his recent track record (101 Dalmatians, Rock Star, Life or Something Like It), something as bad as Man of the House shouldn't be a surprise.

If you go to the movies for action, avoid Man of the House. It will bore you. If you go to the movies for comedy, avoid Man of the House. Even by the most liberal definition, it's thin on humor. If you go to the movies for drama, avoid Man of the House. The average denture wearer understands bonding better than the people who made this film. And if you go to the movies to see five twentysomething women displaying their navels, avoid Man of the House. Go find a Victoria's Secret catalog instead. As I stated at the beginning of this review, the executives at Columbia Pictures were smart to not hold pre-release press screenings for this film. Too bad they didn't show the same wisdom when it came to greenlighting this project.

Man of the House (United States, 2005)

Run Time: 1:37
U.S. Release Date: 2005-02-25
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Violence, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1