Despite the Stetson, Man of the House is old-hat, and you'd better check your sense of reality at the door.

James Plath's picture

Real men get cucumber and mud-pack facials. That's the underlying message in this far-fetched but somehow still likeable action-comedy.

When tough-guy Texas Ranger Roland Sharp (Tommy Lee Jones) gets assigned to live with five gum-popping Longhorn cheerleaders who just happened to witness the murder of a man who was going to testify against an alleged drug kingpin, he's supposed to protect them. But he also helps them develop a little more self-discipline and toughness, while they school him in sensitivity and help him bag one of their teachers.

Call it "Kindergarten Cop" for the sorority set. Like that engaging-but-lightweight Ahhnold vehicle, this film is mostly comedy and warm-fuzzy moments, framed at the beginning and ending by action.

Sgt. Sharp thinks toughness comes with the turf. His marriage dissolves because of his job? All part of the game. He doesn't know how to communicate with his teen-aged daughter, Emma (Shannon Marie Woodward), and feels estranged? Deal with it. His female partner goes down at the beginning of the film? Part of the job. She knew what she was getting into when she signed on, so don't even bother to visit her in the hospital. Just focus on your next assignment, which, in this case, is to bunk in the same building as the girls, while his two young Ranger protégés secure a room at the frat house across the street as a base for their surveillance. For the young guys, it's pretty dull stuff—watching TV monitors, interrupted only buy a stoner knocking on the door asking if anyone wants to buy some marijuana. DUDE! You're so busted!

Sharp, meanwhile, gets the girls up close and personal. But if you're thinking there's going to be a lot of sexual shenanigans and lingerie looks, forget it. The only place Sharp sees unmentionables is the bathroom, where they hang all over the shower rods. In fact, he's so old-fashioned and uptight (or is it sexually repressed?) that he freaks out if they walk around the house in short-shorts and sport bras—so much so that he'll go to any length to get them to cover up more. He'll also do anything to keep them virtually grounded for their own good, while the cheerleaders try to sneak out and drive him crazy with their gum-popping music.

If ever a film cried out for a no-brainer soundtrack pick of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" (which, undoubtedly, because it's overused, didn't make the cut), this is it. I mean, these girls can't even focus on serious business when they're at the police station trying to pick the "perp" out of five books of suspect photographs. Instead, they spend all night talking about which ones are "hot."

The "girls" are all types, of course. One of them is hip, another is a nerdy 4.0 student, another is the boy-crazy one who gets a crush on old Sharp, one is a streetwise girl who connects with him on the conversational level, and a fifth is the quintessential I-Heart-Cheerleading type. Christina Millian, the most well-known of the actors who play "the girls," is joined by Paula Garges, Monica Keena, Vanessa Ferlito, and Kelli Garner. Given the premise, director Stephen Herek could have gone far more over-the-top with their antics, but he focuses more on Sharp and his reaction/interaction. It's his character arc that dominates the script, so much so that what should have been the main plot—a "dirty" cop's attempt to silence the girls as he did the first witness, and an investigation into the shootings—is treated so minimally that we forget there's even something amiss. Where are the other Rangers? What's happening with the trial? How is Sharp's partner doing?

Instead, our attention is trained on the girls' "Pygmalion"-like attempt to turn the rough rider ("Your pores are the size of manhole covers!") into a sensitive guy who knows how to talk to women. He's got a date with cheerleader Barb's English prof (Anne Archer), and while he's reading Shakespeare and trying to get the perky one with a crush on him to excel, all the girls are playing Cyrano de Bergerac and putting words into his tongue-tied macho mouth when he finally makes his turtle-swift move.

There are some real stinker scenes—the worst, a skating outing where this supposedly tough Texas Ranger shows up wearing a helmet and knee pads. Come on! Even the worst skater at the local rink doesn't do that! And the dialogue during that scene drops a real sentimental stink bomb. What redeems this fish-out-of-water film and makes it fun are Jones' performance and the laugh-out-loud comedic moments that are scattered teasingly throughout. I won't spoil it for you, but look for some funny bits when Sharp orders pizza to be delivered, and when he hooks up an ex-con-turned-preacher (Cedric the Entertainer) who also turns out to be an ex-Longhorn cheerleader and has a special fondness for cows.

"Man of the House" is rated PG-13 for "violence (not much), sexual content (yeah, right), crude humor (not really), and "a drug reference" (give me a break).

Video: "Man of the House" was mastered in High Definition, and the picture reflects that. It's almost as sharp as Sharp, with colors that capture the vivid pageantry of Texas Longhorn football. This release offers the choice of 1.33:1 so-called "full screen" or 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen.

Audio: Sometimes Dolby Digital 5.1 can sound muffled or not terribly dynamic, but this disc sports a transfer that features a natural sound with good clarity and resonance. There's a French Dolby 2.0 Surround option that's also not bad, with subtitles in French and English.

Extras: There are only two extras: a pair of 20-minute features on "Cheer Camp" and "The Making of 'Man of the House.'" And they're like the film: lightweight, but still somehow entertaining. Some, but not all, of the girls appear in both, talking about the experience of playing cheerleaders and working with a man they say scared the H-E double hockeysticks out of them. But it turns out that, just as it happened in the film, the girls actually bonded with the rugged veteran actor. What's interesting is that the film originally involved an FBI agent in Virginia, but once Jones was cast, the Texan coerced Herek and his producers to come to the Lone Star State and consider filming it at the University of Texas. UT had never before granted permission to a film crew to actually film there and refer to the University by name, but there was something in this script that made them go along with it. The girls attended 3-5 weeks of cheerleading boot camp (depending on who tells the story), and on camera they're actually quite disarming. The best line? The actress who plays Barb, the one who has a crush on their Texas Ranger protector, says, "Works for me, because I secretly have a fascination with older men. (Giggles) Sorry Grandma."

Bottom Line: There are bad movies, and there are good movies, and there are many that fall somewhere in-between. Despite the Stetson, "Man of the House" is old-hat, and you'd better check your sense of reality at the door. If it weren't for the most unbelievable third-act rescue scene in cinematic history, it would merit a 6 out of 10. Even so, there are still enough cute and funny moments between Jones and the girls to make for enjoyable (if mindless) viewing.


Film Value