Straightforward laughs from Tommy Lee Jones as he plays a Texas Ranger tasked to protect a group of hot cheerleaders following a murder. Easy on the eye and the brain.
Man Of The House reads like wanton commercial MTV-generation pulp made for pubescent teenagers looking for nothing more that the simple stimulations of gun shots, car chases, jokes about the rectal excretions of cows, and the tits and arse excitement of any cheer-leading troupe. In serious cinema Hollywood, this is the childish mischief maker, a film that simply wants to please on the most basic of primal levels and for the most basic of undemanding minds. Director Stephen Herek’s film has little pretense, a piece of work that simply slips into the saturated market of youth-targeted mainstream cinema. Yet, while having very little under its thin surface, it delivers what it says on the tin.
Tommy Lee Jones plays Texas Ranger Roland Sharp who loses a key witness when a gun battle with police gets out of hand and discovers that the only people who saw the murder take place were a group of cheerleaders. Needing to make sure the same fate doesn’t happen upon the five pom-pom swingers, Sharp, with his team, moves into the house the girls share, and keeps them under constant surveillance. Obviously, the ditzy chicks aren’t too keen on Sharp’s serious and strict mentality, but while the two camps seem world’s apart (and a few decades by the looks of things) it seems the tough-old cop might just be the cure the girls need to get ahead in the world, while the young-innocence of the cheerleaders offer a youthful counterbalance to Sharp’s worldly years, possibly providing the catalyst to a meaningful relationship with his daughter.
When you think what Man Of The House is about you realise there’s very little too it – the plot is almost non-existent as the film motors along on very thin material which never really engages the viewer. Admittedly, there’s some lovely moments between cheerleader Heather (Vanessa Ferlito) and Sharp when the distinction between brutality in the face of upholding the law and brutality itself is questioned, and they discuss Sharp’s relationship with his daughter. And there’s some inspired comedic moments such as Sharp having to do the shopping for the girls and getting stuck in the women’s hygiene section of the supermarket not knowing which type of sanitary towel to buy, and when the girls watch Sharp on a date through the surveillance camera, telling him through a secret ear piece what to do and say. Indeed, the aspects of the film that work revolve around embracing stereotypes – the airhead female college girl and the old-guy whose archaic view of modern day youth culture only pronounces his age and his wrinkles – and allowing the inevitable culture clash to light a few fires. Certainly, it hits the right notes when it plays on these ideas. But there’s a feeling that the best scenes are simply skits fitted into a film narrative, and that ultimately, this fish-out-of-water tale is a story that has been told many times by better movies.
The back story as to why the girls have to be protected is only merely hinted at throughout the film, and the sub-plot about a corrupt F.B.I agent whose trying to track them down is simply extraneous. The film could have worked much better had the principle fish-out-of-water idea been supplanted into a better, more fitting story. Its wrong-doings are simply its high-concept constraints, but it is infuriating when the material is there but hidden by a directionless narrative and sub-par scripting. Director Herek has proved in the past that he has an ability to make thin-material appear to have a little more texture in The Mighty Ducks and Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead, but perhaps the script here was just too ham-fisted.
Yet there’s still something quite alluring with Man Of The House and it’s down to the performances. The cheerleaders Heather (Ferlito) and Barb (Kelli Garner) are both excellent (especially Barb who falls for Sharp) but there’s a genuine likeness in all of them as they quite happily play-out the very stereotypes that define them. But Tommy Lee Jones yet again proves he has a penchant for deadpan comedy as he’s wonderful in the role, fitting perfectly into the straight-faced character that juxtaposes the loud energy and teen neuroses of the five girls.
Man Of The House is as easy as it is hard to watch in that for all its simple guilty pleasures, it remains an infuriating missed-opportunity. There’s some great little comedy moments but the decidedly thin-material is far too damning and the film cannot escape the confines of the dumb cinema it believes its target-audience are after.
Written by Daniel Stephens
Directed by: Stephen Herek
Written by: Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, John J. McLaughlin
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Cedric the Entertainer, Christina Milian, Paula Garcés, Monica Keena, Vanessa Ferlito, Kelli Garner
Released: 2005 / Genre: Comedy / Country: USA / IMDB