"Man of the House," not to confused with the 1995 Chevy Chase-Jonathan Taylor Thomas family film of the same name, is as generic as its title. A consistently unoriginal comedy that plays like an abandoned 97-minute sitcom pilot without the laugh track or hardly any laughs, the film is a useless cacophony of indistinct plotting and moldy physical humor. Despite the efforts of director Stephen Herek (2002's "Life or Something Like It
") and three screenwritersRobert Ramsey and Matthew Stone (2003's "Intolerable Cruelty
") & first-timer John J. McLaughlinthe nadir of wit "Man of the House" carries with it is a scene involving a cell phone up a cow's backside (already used better in 2001's "Say It Isn't So
") and a physical gag where a character suddenly falls down (already used in every so-called comedy ever made).
When a potential key figure in the prosecution of a drug kingpin is suddenly murdered, dead-pan Deputy Roland Sharp (Tommy Lee Jones) is at a loss to the killer's identity. What he does know, however, is that the sole witnesses to the crime, five University of Texas cheerleadersBarb (Kelli Garner), Heather (Vanessa Ferlito), Evie (Monica Keena), Anne (Christina Milian), and Therese (Paula Garces)are potentially in grave danger. Moving into their campus house and posing as their cheerleading coach, Roland's mission to protect the girls turns a square-peg-in-a-round-hole scenario into a bonding friendship.
An uneasy amalgamation of frothy comedy and violent shoot-outs and explosions, "Man of the House" is confused about what it wants to be and screams of desperation. Who, exactly, is the target audience for this picture? Too violent for children, too uninteresting for teen girls who have come to see the cheerleading story, and too juvenile for adults, director Stephen Herek has forgotten to consider who he intends his viewing population to be. Long stretches forget almost entirely about the story and become a series of disconnected episodes that have no discernible purpose. One extended scene finds the five girls visiting an unconventional, loud-mouthed preacher (Cedric the Entertainer in a worthless glorified cameo) and having a dance-off against him. Pointless in pushing forward the plot and flatly choreographed besides, the movie halts to a complete stop for the mere excuse of giving the picture urban street cred by giving Cedric the Entertainer (2004's "Johnson Family Vacation
") a job. Countless other sequences like this one are on hand for the apparent purpose of putting to use a song, each and every one recognizable but cinematically overused to the point of nausea.
As Roland Sharp, a man so dedicated to his job that it has put a strain on his relationship with bright teenage daughter Emma (Shannon Marie Woodward), Tommy Lee Jones (2002's "Men in Black II
") embraces his well-worn dry persona. He does it well, which has led to his typecasting, but attempts to bring dignity to an undignified film are fruitless. That Jones executive-produced this turkey only makes his appearance unsympathetic. As Molly McCarthy, one of the girls' literature professors whom Roland is smitten with, Anne Archer (2000's "Rules of Engagement") comes out of seeming hiding to play, well enough, Roland's stock love interest.
As for the cheerleaders themselves, time is spent trying to develop them into individuals, which is appreciative, but too often their personalities seem to change to meet the plot requirements. One minute they're hopelessly ditzy, an embrace of every cheerleader stereotype known to man, and the next they are serious and wise, giving Roland advice and carrying thoughtful conversation with him. Of the five actresses, Kelli Garner (2004's "The Aviator
") steals the show as Barb, a happy-go-lucky student shielding low self-esteem and a crush on her much older protector, and no wonder; she is the only one to have already worked with Larry Clark and Martin Scorsese in her young career.
Unfunny, drug out, and not even making a whole lot of sense in its dealings with crooked police officer Eddie Zane (Brian Van Holt) and his pursuit of five girls he has never even laid eyes on, "Man of the House" has been released without screenings for critics, and for understandable reason. Both lightweight and dead weight, an experience that comes and goes with nary a memorable or adroit moment to hang onto, the film hasn't a fresh bone in its bodyor an impressive dance routine in its Texas Longhorns cheerleading squad. "Man of the House" is strictly disposable fare without the barest hints of savvy to do its opposites-attract premise justice. It lays there like a fish out of water, flapping around and gasping for breath. By the end credits, it has long since rolled over and died.