March 3, 1995 in Seven

Too Much Brat, Not Enough Plot Hurts ‘Man In The House’

 

Complaints about reviews that reveal movie endings are outdated grievances these days. Reviews by critics aren’t the only problem in this area now; movies themselves are guilty of this traditional no-no, a lot of them clearly indicating in their first few scenes exactly how they’re going to end.

A case in point is the new Chevy ChaseFarrah Fawcett family film, “Man of the House,” in which the seasoned stars play second fiddle to unctuous child actor Jonathan Taylor Thomas (“Home Improvement” and the voice of young Simba in “The Lion King”) as a kid bent on destroying his divorced mom’s new relationship. The boy hates the interloper from the get-go and spends the entire film setting him up in the most humiliating, bratty ways, yet there’s never any doubt that this film will end with a big hug.

Thomas plays Ben Archer, an 11-going-on-12-year-old who has had his mom, Sandra (the ever-charming Fawcett), all to himself for seven years. His dad ran out on them when Ben was about 5, driving off with his secretary. Ben has been the man of the house, but now Mom is involved with Jack Sturges (Chase), a prosecutor known for having put some mobster behind bars.

Is it possible that a Mafia thug will suddenly appear and give Jack an even harder time than Ben has been giving him - or that Ben will go soft on Jack once he sees his courageous prospective dad in action?

What do you think?

So with no dramatic suspense whatsoever and no surprises, we have little to do here but witness the hugely unpleasant spectacle of Ben tormenting Jack after Ben’s mother invites Jack to live with them in a kind of trial marriage.

The one fascination here is little Ben’s discomfort with any kind of displayed physical affection, something the film introduces but never bothers to examine. The boy forbids Jack and Sandra to kiss in his presence and even makes sure that they have separate sleeping quarters. He does this in a petulant, spoiledkid way. Much of this would have been easier to swallow if Thomas telegraphed some of Ben’s pain and insecurities, his scars, to us.

But as played, he’s just a brat.

Chase works in the same sad, vulnerable vein that was so appealing (and so unappreciated) in such forgotten films as George Roy Hill’s “Funny Farm” (1988), Dan Aykroyd’s “Nothing but Trouble” (1991), John Carpenter’s “Memoirs of an Invisible Man” (1992) and Michael Ritchie’s “Cops and Robbersons” (1993).

No one seems to notice that he has evolved into the most soulful of comic actors; instead, people complain that he doesn’t do the kind of physical comedy, the pratfalls that made him famous nearly 20 years ago on “Saturday Night Live.”

People want Chase to remain silly and smug forever.

If the filmmakers had gotten rid of Thomas and that predictable ending, if they had let Chase and Fawcett loose in a truly dramatic reading of the contemporary blended family situation, “Man of the House” could have been tough and provocative. But then it would have been another film altogether.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with story: “Man of the House” Location: East Sprague, Newport and Showboat cinemas Cast: Directed by James Orr; starring Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Chevy Chase, Farrah Fawcett, George Wendt and Ryan O’Neal (uncredited) Running time: 98 minutes Rating: PG By Joe Baltake McClatchy News Service

This sidebar appeared with story: “Man of the House” Location: East Sprague, Newport and Showboat cinemas Cast: Directed by James Orr; starring Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Chevy Chase, Farrah Fawcett, George Wendt and Ryan O’Neal (uncredited) Running time: 98 minutes Rating: PG By Joe Baltake McClatchy News Service

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