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By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 12, 1992


Frank Oz
Steve Martin;
Goldie Hawn;
Dana Delany;
Julie Harris;
Donald Moffat;
Peter MacNicol
Parental guidance suggested

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"Housesitter" wants to please everyone a little, but nobody a lot. This low-achievement approach may guarantee success in the video stores. But on the big screen, it's fully exposed. For all Steve Martin's rubbery faces, and Goldie Hawn's watery-eyed expressions, the movie just sits there.

In this upbeat spin on "Fatal Attraction," Boston architect Martin (still moping over the hometown gal who snubbed his marriage proposal) has a one-night fling with waitress Hawn. But she's not so easily discarded. Having heard Martin's woeful tale about the vacant New England dreamhouse he built for his intended, she decides to move in. A compulsive con artist, she incurs huge bills in his name, and tells anyone who listens she's in the family.

"I'm Gwen," she says, introducing herself to pleasant, older gentleman Donald Moffat. "I'm his wife."

"I'm George," replies Moffat, deeply puzzled. "I'm his father."

Word travels fast in sleepy Dobbs Mill. Checking on his unused love nest, Martin finds himself surrounded by well-wishers and bill collectors. Parents Moffat and Julie Harris are offended they weren't invited to the wedding. When dream girl Dana Delany expresses newfound interest in Martin as a married man, the architect begins to think this fictional arrangement might not be such a bad idea. That is, until he realizes how much everyone loves Goldie.

Directed by erstwhile Muppeteer Frank Oz, the performances seem contractual rather than spontaneous. As an incurable liar, who claims to be everything from a Hungarian waitress to Martin's wife, Hawn executes just enough comedic moves to make her drifter role amusing. But she seems held back by the potboiler script and a lack of conviction.

Martin's job is to react with increasing horror to Hawn as she gleefully reorders his life. He does this shtick effortlessly -- and that's the problem. You only have to watch his similar but superior work in "The Man With Two Brains" and "Father of the Bride" to realize he's phoning things in here.

The funny moments are easy to remember: There are so few of them. On that first morning after, when Hawn awakens alone, her foot reaches behind her to touch Martin. It finds nothing. Surprised, it pushes further back. Still nothing . . . Frustrated by Hawn at one point, Martin takes a gymnastic tumble over a sofa in mid-conversation.

In the best routine of all, Martin (playing married now) and Delany find themselves alone and highly tempted. Martin, face half-buried in Delany's arm, gingerly prods her in strategic places. He keeps prodding with the same, slow tentativeness, as if she's a dashboard. It's a wonderful, wordless exchange.

But in "Housesitter," the antics are too concerned with zany-plot development, and sitcomish observations about truth and lies, to stop for moments as amusing as this.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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