Man of the House

Love/hate relationships are funny things, especially when it comes to movies. We all have those films that are absolutely horrible and we take pure joy in mocking their badness. They are the movies we love to hate. If you’re not sure what kind of show that might be, do a Google search for Uwe Boll – text book examples won’t be far away. There is another kind of love/hate relationship though. Yes, I’m referring to those stray puppy films that we hate to love, but just can’t help ourselves. There are so many awful and annoying things to complain about: the plot, characters, effects and what-have-you. Yet there is an irresistible charm to it that won’t let you say “I abhor this movie”. Well, as unhappy as I am about admitting it, Man of the House is the latest on my list of flicks that I hate to love.

It’s all too clear that Tommy Lee Jones has a daughter merging into her formative teenage years. As both star and executive producer of Man of the House, Jones takes the opportunity to create a movie that shows his ideas of what a strict yet loving father figure should be, while throwing in some etiquette related to how a young lady should behave. The nice part is that he manages to make it humorous without being too trite or cliché…most of the time.

Jones plays Texas Ranger Roland Sharpe, a man in the middle of taking down a major crime boss, when his key witness is killed by a sniper. The only unwitting bystanders who can identify the gunman are a group of five cheerleaders from the University of Texas Austin (enter Jones’ hometown Texas spirit). Sharpe and his men must go undercover on the university campus as members of the cheerleader coaching team to protect their new witnesses from any harm.

Babysitting a group of hardly dressed, personality-saturated, coed cheerleaders isn’t Sharpe’s only problem. Despite his gruffness and dedication to work, he is a divorced but loving father. His relationship with his teenage daughter is somewhat strained and the burdens of being a star Texas Ranger don’t help matters. Oh, and lest we forget, there’s also the love interest problem. During his exploits protecting the loquacious quintet, Roland falls for UT English prof Molly McCarthy, played by the elegant Anne Archer. Add to all of the above one FBI agent gone bad who is playing both sides in an effort to make sure Sharpe’s girls never make it to the witness stand and you have the flimsy but humorous plot to the film.

The entire movie really needs to come with a good news/bad news warning label. The good news is that there are plenty of truly laugh-out-loud moments in Man of the House. Most of the gags and setups don’t go quite where you expect them to, call it creative use of predictable situations. Even more refreshing is the genuineness Jones brings to the Sharpe character. Granted, it doesn’t hurt that Roland Sharpe is essentially Tommy himself in a Texas Ranger’s uniform (both are devoutly Texas men and divorced fathers with one teenage daughter). At the very least, the movie has a less than subtle, but sweetly stated message for teenage girls. I’m not going to try and explain it, though. If you really want to know what it is, go see the movie.

The bad news is, well, all over the place. If you aren’t being subjected to watching a very fish-out-of-water looking Cedric the Entertainer disgracefully packed into a cheerleader uniform that I sincerely doubt would have fit him in his college days, you’re watching him engage in an absurd “cheer-off” with the cheerleaders. It’s hard to tell what’s more disturbing during the spirit show down: what’s jiggling on the girls or what’s jiggling on Cedric. Either way, this is only one of several moments the movie could easily have done without. The more interesting plot (Ranger protecting witnesses) quickly takes a backseat to the humor and father/daughter story lines. While it does make an odd resurgence at the end, it’s a sequence that doesn’t quite work and leaves you feeling a little bit cheated. After all, if there’s one thing Chuck Norris has taught us, Texas Rangers always take down the bad guy with a crazy roundhouse during a knock-out kick boxing match. O Walker, where art thou?

Man of the House boils down to being an alright movie, but one you’ll want to rent on DVD when there’s nothing else to watch. The exception might be if you’re from Austin, in which case you can watch it purely for all the “Keep Austin Weird” cameos, Mangia’s Pizza delivery dude, and copious opportunities to cheer for the Longhorns. Otherwise, fans of Tommy Lee Jones and Cedric the Entertainer should go re-watch some of the better works by those actors: The Fugitive and beer commercials, respectively. Be warned though. Watching this film may very well leave you with the creepy sensation of loving a movie that you wish you could hate.