A film review by Craig J. Koban



2005, PG-13, 97 mins.

Tommy Lee Jones: Roland Sharp / Cedric The Entertainer: Percy Stevens / Christina Milian: Anne / Paula Garces: Teresa / Monica Keena: Evie / Vanessa Ferlito: Heather / Kelli Garner: Barb / Anne Archer: Prof. McCarthy


Directed by Steven Herek / Written by Robert Ramsey & Matthew Stone and John J. McLaughlin

What is worse – a bad film that stars a bad actor or a bad film that stars a great, proven actor?  After watching the comic dead zone and lower order of cinematic dribble that was MAN OF THE HOUSE,  I would wholeheartedly and frantically argue the latter.  This brings me to yet another question – what was going through Tommy Lee Jones’ mind when he agreed to be in this wretched would-be comedy that does not even deserve a comparison to the lower echelon of bad sitcom television? 

Jones is an established actor of significant range and charisma, and he has delivered some of the most memorable performances of the last twenty years of contemporary American cinema. He was sly and cunning in Oliver Stone’s JFK, playing assassination conspiratorial defendant Clay Shaw (he was nominated for an Oscar, and rightfully so, for his work there).  He would later take home Oscar gold in 1993 for his thankless role as a US Marshal in THE FUGITIVE, one of the best pure thrillers of the 1990’s.   He was brilliant as Ty Cobb in the underrated biopic COBB, and was even ingeniously wacky and flamboyantly over-the-top as warden Dwight McClusky in another Stone masterpiece, NATURAL BORN KILLERS.  Hell, he even brought weight and verisimilitude way back in 1992 as a terrorist in the Steven Segal action picture UNDER SIEGE, and I might add that his role there would have been much less dimensional and fleshed out in a lesser actor’s hands. 

So…Tommy…Tommy…Tommy…what gives?  Why are you in the consistently and obsessively unfunny, unoriginal, and unabashedly dreadful comic mess that is MAN OF THE HOUSE?  Dammit…I want an answer!  Okay, maybe I’ll have to use my modest deductive powers to formulate an answer for myself.  Was it the chance of working with a gifted director?  Probably not, especially if you consider that HOUSE was made by Stephen Herek, whose previous (and dubious) film credits include CRITTERS, THE MIGHTY DUCKS, and ROCK STAR.  Wait a tick…maybe since he also directed BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE that would make him a suitable match for you, Mr. Jones.  Probably not, but then again, he is from Texas, as are you, so maybe it was the chance of working with a fellow Texan…right? 

Okay, why else would you allow yourself to be involved in this raging stink bomb of a comedy?  Was it the fact that the film had elements, at one time, of football?  After all, you were a former Harvard offensive guard, so maybe you thought that this would be a funny football film…right?  Probably not, since the film went through more script rewrites and writers then was even humanly necessary.  Well, what about the fact that the film places you in familiar ground as a law official, but this time you get to be a Texas Ranger…that must have appealed to you…right?  Okay, you are from the Lone Star State, but I hardly think that this reason was grounds enough for you to personally commit yourself to a film that is so negligible in terms of entertainment value that, while watching it, I felt kidnapped and tied down to my chair, fearing for my ability to escape from it. 

Now…here’s one question that I will never get a satisfying answer to – why, why, WHY did you, Mr. Jones, allow yourself to not only star in this lowest common denominator entertainment, but to co-executive produce it as well?  That is probably the most shameful part of your participation here.  You not only thought that this venture was worth starring in, but you even thought that it was so in need of being made that you actually lent out your name and assistance for a producing credit.  Gee, you are probably wondering now if you could have used “Alan Smithee” for both your starring and producing credits because the thought of you wanting your name associated with this film staggers me.  Oh wait…this film did not get a critic screening, which is the industry kiss of death in terms of a film’s relative worth, also ensuring that more people don’t see it.   

I’m sorry to have to say this Tommy...but for shame!  MAN OF THE HOUSE is like one of those tired and appallingly insipid concept films whose premise feels cobbled together by a few producers who have had too much beer during one night out.  The concept of the film maybe felt like an idea that was funny in itself – the ultra stoic Tommy Lee Jones playing the atypical Tommy Lee Jones authority figure that must protect a squad of ditzy cheerleaders after they have all witnessed a murder.  The premise is not funny.  Period. 

Also, the film’s tone is so ass-backwards that I felt like trying to feed the screen a dyslexic pill…if there was such a thing.  It tries to be an action/romantic comedy that is neither exciting and fever pitched, nor is it compelling and poignant in the tender moments of the film.  The film’s plot is so pedestrian and the romantic angle so unhappily manufactured that you kind of stare up at the proceedings with such a high level of mocking ridicule.  However, the most dangerous and vile offence this film commits is that it takes one of the finest actors of his generation and essentially castrates him of all pride and dignity.  If you doubt me, then consider – this is probably the first film that I have seen that reduces a former Oscar winning actor to play a part where he has to stick his whole arm up a cow’s anus and then expects us to laugh at it uproariously.  Tommy, you are above this cinematic sludge...this is Paulie Shore territory and you know it. 

Jones plays Roland Sharp, the same type of hard-hitting, frank, tough talking, no-nonsense and Vulcanized, unemotional Texas Ranger that he essentially played much better in THE FUGITIVE.  The plot is thin, to say the least, and plays like a warped and perverted version of WITNESS for the intellectually challenged.  You see, Sharp is given the rather difficult challenge of watching over…or just babysitting…five college cheerleaders who all witness a key murder at the beginning of the film.  It’s kind of funny, but Sharp sees this as a bit of a personal curse placed upon him.  Yet, in hindsight, all of the cheerleaders are such perfect 10’s that you would question – for cryin’ out loud – why any normal male would complain about having to babysit five readily hot women, who all seem to parade around in next to nothing.  This mission is sort of like a glorious MAXIM Magazine inspired fantasy, but to the man whose all business like Sharp, he feels that it as a burden.  Uh-huh…whatever. 

Okay, now I am not trying to say that this film would have worked better if Sharp was a sex-obsessed pervert who loved college girls, but c’mon!   If you were a man living with all of these gorgeous women, would you demand that they put on more clothes when they come down to breakfast in their underwear?  Would you spend $7000 of the government’s money just to install an air conditioner so that it would make the women feel so cold that it would subsequently force them to wear clothes? 

Also, would these five girls not feel a bit uncomfortable basking all of their physical goodies to a middle aged man that is assigned to protect them?  Oftentimes they walk around in very little (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and it becomes more clear that they are not really trying to present themselves off as plausible human characters that resonate with the audience.  They are one-dimensional stereotypes that give director Herek ample opportunities to film them exposing their flesh as much as possible while still securing a PG-13 rating.  There are a few times that he films the women, with low shots and sneaky angles showcasing their assets, and comes across more as a voyeur than a mainstream director. 

Okay, so it's impossible to really buy into the premise of MAN OF THE HOUSE, which manages to thrown in every tried and clichéd page in the book.  It does not help by the fact the film commits an act of heinousness by, at first, presenting the women as raging stereotypes with personalities as thin as Cate Moss’ waistline and then tries to shamelessly humanize them for dramatic effect.  These woman are all clones with the only real discernibly differences being their hair and eye color and their bra size.  Of course, they are all stock-cheerleader characters – vein, narcissist, fashion conscious, and completely and hopelessly obsessed with their looks. 

Anne (Christina Milian), Therese (Paula Garcés), Evie (Monica Keena), Barb (Kelli Garner), and Heather (Vanessa Ferlito) are as flawless looking as they all are indistinguishable and dull as characters.  I kept on thinking that maybe a funnier choice for the film would have been for the cheerleaders to be smart, sassy, and intelligent as characters and make their watcher dumb and moronic, but the film is equally too stupid to be that daring.  Why not have Jones play against type and have him be the simpleton hero and the ladies be the resourceful protagonists?  

So, the interplay between Sharp and the cheerleaders is about as coy and formulaic as it gets.  Basically – both hate each other at first, then grown to respect and appreciate their own inherent differences, and by the end they all form some sort of surrogate family.  Yawn.  Then, in an equally insulting move, the film desperately throws in a female interest for Sharp in the form of a college professor, played by Anne Archer, who we all just know will become smitten with Sharp.  Oh, the film is also on full-tilt Idiot Plot Mode when a woman as smart and sophisticated as her can’t see that Sharp is not really the girls’ coach (that’s his cover, which in itself tries to provide more would-be laughs).   

Now, to make matters even more degrading, the film then throws in a completely superfluous character in Sharp’s daughter, who is developed as full as a character that is destined to be used for a plot convenience can be.  As soon as she’s introduced as a daughter figure that does not bond well with her father, then you just know that Jones will become closer to the cheerleaders and grow a newfound respect for his daughter in the process.  Oh, and you also just know that the daughter will become involved in a silly action-packed climax where the main villain, a cardboard cut-out of an antagonist, will kidnap her with both the cheerleaders and Sharp to the rescue.  Well, laddi-frickin’duh. 

I will come to Jones defense here by saying that he can be incredibly funny by playing the absolute straight man to all of the other zaniness around him.  Case in point is the first MEN IN BLACK, a film where his strictness and overt discipline made for much of the comedy.  The main problem here is that he has absolutely NOBODY to play effectively off of.  There is no Will Smith irreverence in MAN OF THE HOUSE, and the actresses that play the cheerleaders sure as hell aren’t no collective Fresh Prince.  There is no denying that the girls themselves look fantastic and are incredibly easy on the eyes, but none of them are memorable personas, nor do they do or say anything that generates even modest chuckles.

Why, Tommy?  Why did you make MAN OF THE HOUSE?  Your participation precludes a somewhat pathetic desire for a big, fat paycheck because that is the only sense of intrinsic self worth that you could have derived from this mess.  MAN OF THE HOUSE is not so much offensively bad as it is embarrassingly bad.  I have rarely sat through a film and felt such an intimate level of awkwardness, mortification, and indignity for one actor as I did with Jones in this film.  For a man that has worked with the likes of Oliver Stone, William Freidkin, Clint Eastwood, Andrew Davies, and Michael Apted and has been nominated twice for Oscars - winning once - I hope that Jones is hanging his head very low for this monotonous and dreary comic outing.  MAN OF THE HOUSE is a discomforting black eye on his established and noteworthy career.  I hope the swelling goes down very soon so he can make a full recovery.

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