Only a true pessimist could have predicted that, 12 years after accepting an Oscar for his work in The Fugitive, Tommy Lee Jones would be sticking his hand up the south end of a cow in the lowbrow fish-out-of-water comedy Man of the House.
No, it’s not a remake of the Jonathan Taylor Thomas film of the same name. Jones stars as Roland Sharp, a Texas cop with the all-business, no-nonsense demeanor that Jones hardly ever abandons. After a group of University of Texas cheerleaders witnesses a murder, Sharp takes them under his constant surveillance and out of the path of Eddie Zane (Brian Van Holt), an old friend of Sharp’s and FBI agent who has gone bad for no discernable reason.
Because it’s a comedy set in Texas, Man of the House has lots of slow-witted Southern hospitality, brutish bar fighting and down-home gospel singing. Because it’s a movie about college kids, it’s got plenty of compulsive socializing, academic ignorance and reckless, drunken behavior. And because it’s built on the premise of a muttering, humorless tough guy slowly opening up with the help of five bubbly beauties, Jones must maintain a straight face as Sharp buys tampons, complains about exposed thighs and midriffs, endures a facial and a manicure, and splats on his back in an attempt to roller skate.
The girls, played by Christina Milian as the leader, Monica Keena as the smart one, Kelli Garner as the airhead who falls for Sharp, Vanessa Ferlito as the tough one, and Paula Garces as the sex-crazed one, appear to have been loosely modeled after the Spice Girls. They’re vapid enough to discuss the “hottie rating” of convicted felons yet apparently intelligent enough to thrive at the University of Texas. And they’re girly enough to scamper and squeal in fear when they witness a murder but composed enough to barely react as they narrowly escape an exploding van meant to silence their cheers forever.
For some reason, it took three writers to put together this nonsense, and not one succeeded in making it funny. It’s not a good sign when a movie thinks its most hilarious sequence is a dance-off between the girls and an overweight, ex-con preacher (Cedric the Entertainer). The script also ignores the fact that none of the bad guys know who the witnesses are, and the cheerleaders don’t really try to ID the shooter, so the entire protection program is essentially moot.
Director Stephen Herek keeps things bright and spunky for the most part, but Man of the House needs to get its foundation checked. It incorporates an all-too-familiar backdrop of a father estranged from his family because of work, as Sharp struggles to reconnect to his 17-year-old daughter Emma (Shannon Marie Woodward). There’s also an attempt to give Sharp a love interest, a UT professor played by a mature, dignified Anne Archer, that never gets out of the basement.
But most disconcerting is the older men’s attraction to the young ladies that is concealed but hinted at in a wink-wink, nudge-nudge way that suggests that being cooped up with five busty babes is a male fantasy no matter how old you are. The girls are sexualized and continually ogled, and it’s a testament to Jones’ cool, protective persona that he emerges as a father figure, not just some creepy old man with pom pons for morals.
The most unique thing about Man of the House is that it’s the rare movie that manages to be insulting to women, college students and cheerleaders. Give me a J! Give me a U! Give me an N! Give me a K! What does that spell?