Film — Man of the House (PG-13)
Man of the House (PG-13)

by Amy Diaz

Next season on ABC’s TGIF! — Tommy Lee Jones is a Texas Ranger who has to share a house with five Texas cheerleaders with hilarious results in the wacky new sitcom Man of the House!

Sweeps month guest stars: Cedric the Entertainer and Matthew McConaughey!

Oh, wait, what? Man of the House is a movie? No, you’re kidding, right? I thought I stumbled in to a screening of one of next season’s sure-to-fail new television shows. It’s got all the elements — the movie star looking to draw a weekly salary, the one-trick-pony premise, the love-interest for the lead, plenty of potential wackiness from the girls and I swear there was even a laugh track.

I suppose it’s just as well that Man of the House isn’t a television show. This spares the writers (assuming there were any to begin with) from having to come up with countless variations on the same joke — the cheerleaders are girlie, Tommy Lee Jones is straightlaced and gruff, he is forced to do something girlie (possibly involving lip gloss or tampons — oh, wait, they used that gag already), laughs try desperately to ensue.

Ah, well, I guess we should talk plot. Texas Ranger Sharp (Jones) is investigating some sort of malfeasance in the Lone Star State and is attempting to keep safe a witness who can bring down a powerful criminal. The witness, along with Sharp’s partner, is shot but that act too creates its own witnesses. The death of the witness (and the face of the man who killed him) are seen by a group of Texas cheerleaders. The five girls go to the police to report what they saw — they feel it’s their duty as role models — and Sharp is assigned to protect them while he searches for the killer of the first witness.

The girls are identified by names, I suppose, but their true designation is type. There’s the sassy black cheerleader captain (Christina Milian), there’s the sassy Latina cheerleader (Paula Garces) with assorted boyfriend drama, there’s the other non-accent-having Latina cheerleader (Vanessa Ferlito) who’s somewhat brainy, there’s the hyperventilating anxiety-prone blond cheerleader (Monica Keenan) and then there’s the ditzy blond cheerleader (Kelli Garner) who develops instant crushes on any man in her path. (In fairness, these last two might have been the same girl or I might have some of their attributes mixed up — it was very hard to tell all five girls apart.) They prance around their house barely dressed  — much to the joy of the other two rangers who join Sharp in the protection detail — and pester Sharp with their desires to go out unattended. He solves the scant-clothing problem by installing air-conditioning, keeping the house too cool for belly shirts. He solves the going-out problem by taking the girls skating. And it’s on occasions like that that he starts to open up to his chirpy new friends — getting their advice on how he should deal with his 17-year-old daughter and how to win a professor who has been making eyes at him.

The movie forgets, for long chunks, about the crime stuff because it gets in the way of the Ranger-vs.-cheerleader comedy or, you know, “comedy.” It isn’t particularly funny comedy but it gets a laugh or two because it’s predictable. Like a limerick or a pie in the face, you can see the big-money laugh line coming from miles away.

The movie is also unbelievably cute, though not, perhaps, in the way you’d expect. Set in Austin, Texas —these girls are UT cheerleaders, after all; savvy Longhorns, not Aggie bumpkins — the movie falls all over itself to give us shots of the city, plenty of Austin business product placement and lots of “Keep Austin Weird” t-shirts. If you’ve ever lived in Austin, these shots stick out like an extra character, giving you bits of on-screen trivia (hey, there’s Governor Rick Perry!) to marvel over as the movie slowly ticks by in the background.

There is nothing offensive or racy abut Man of the House but nothing edgy, wacky, silly or all that humorous either. The perfectly lame sitcom that, let’s hope, never gets made.

- Amy Diaz

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