MAN OF THE HOUSE (1995) zero stars. Directed by James Orr. Written by Orr & Jim Cruikshank, from a story by David Peckinpah & Richard Jefferies. Produced by Bonnie Brukheimer & Marty Katz. Photography, Jamie Anderson. Editing, Harry Keramidas. Production design, Lawrence G. Paull. Music, Mark Mancina. Cast: Chevy Chase, Farrah Fawcett, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, George Wendt, Chief Leonard George. AWalt Disney release. 110 min. Rated PG.
"Man of the House" is the kind of film that made me think. Watching it in total boredom I passed some of the time immersed in thoughts like: "Was the other Farah, Farah Dibah (spelling?) the wife of Jordan's King Hussein?" Or "Was Chevy Chase good in any movies?"
Well, I liked Chase a great deal in "Fletch" and in "Three Amigos." I remember him rather fondly in "Seems Like Old Times, " "Funny Farm, "L.A. Story" and "Hero." (He was uncredited in those last two movies). He had some OK moments in the poor "Deal Of The Century" and in the disreputable (but sometimes so-bad-it's-funny) "Nothing But Trouble." But in most of his other films (and his short-lived late-night show), his erratic talent was ill-served by calamitous comedies with poor scripts and/or direction. "Man of the House" falls to the bottom of that swamp, and Chase's acting ranges from indifferent to dull.
Farrah Fawcett does even less. She is merely a prop, an artist called Sandra who, after her husband leaves her (why is not revealed) bonds powerfully with her only child, Ben (Thomas). After some failed relationships, she devotes herself to her art and to Ben. The boy is 11 when, in Seattle, Sandra finally considers marrying State Attorney Jack (Chase)-- but not before he moves to her place for a trial run.
They say that guests, like fish, stink after three days. Ben smells the stink even before Jack shows up. Mom-possessive and antagonistic, the spoiled brat does all he can to put a wedge between Sandra and Jack by annoying, undermining and discrediting him.
There is a faint glimmer of interest in Jack's first hours chez Sandra. The film might have developed the common, real-life --but seldom treated -- theme of awkwardness and discomfort that often afflict you when you are a guest in unfamiliar surroundings. But this remains merely a might-have-been notion as the film settles simplistically for the man trying to tame the child and the youngster plotting against the adult.
Then Ben hears of a ludicrous Y.M.C.A. Father-Son Indian Guide group. Joining it, he thinks, will be the undoing of Jack. Instead, it is the undoing of the movie.
The "Indian Tribe" consists of three imbecilic dads and their progeny-- the kids being also hardly explored props. The adult caricatures, led by George Wendt, are indescribably ridiculous and un-funny in mien, behavior, ceremonies and games. Worse yet, they are an embarrassment and an insult to Native Americans as the club members try to appropriate Indian life and customs.
Jack, for whom Ben chose the name "Squatting Dog," doggedly tries to make friends. How-to books are no help, so he consults George Wendt who, from a moron suddenly becomes a sage, dispensing platitudinous advice. It works for a while. Ben becomes bitten by the Indian bug and a rapprochement with Jack begins.
In a sketchy and idiotic subplot, Jack, who has successfully prosecuted a narcotrafficker, becomes the target of the man's son and two other hoodlums. They disable the brakes of his car which, after the obligatory thrills on wheels, plunges into the Pacific. Jack only gets soaked. (This is a Disney movie).
The real "tragedy" is that he does not show up for the group's river boating trip, leaving Ben feeling betrayed. Jack does show up dripping wet at the apartment, but in another giga-stupidity of the plot, he hides the truth and blames a downpour. He is sill keeping mum when, later, the "Indians" go camping in the woods, with Ben still resentful and sulking.
The truth outs only when the Three Stooges-type hoodlums stalk Jack. Thanks to those Mafiosi ex machina, Ben now looks lovingly at Jack, he and the other campers defeat the baddies (with "Indian" techniques), and a new Disney family is born.
This disastrous film goes from dull to duller and slow to slower. The only faster and faster thing is the frequency of yawns. I am told that in TV's "Home Improvement," young Thomas is good. Maybe so, but here his part is not helped by Ben's artificially cute lines and witticisms and by his smarty-pants thoughts he speaks on the soundtrack.