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‘Man of the House’ (PG)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 03, 1995

It may be possible for Chevy Chase to be less animated than he is in "Man of the House," but he'd have to be on life support. In this abysmal domestic comedy, the former "SNL" star shuffles aimlessly through the film as if he were still in his robe and pajamas. Every punch line, it seems, is delivered with a yawn.

Of course, Chase has always been a low-energy performer, getting laughs out of his blotto delayed reactions. But as Jack, a cool-jerk prosecutor who stands up to mob threats but quivers before a sulking preteen, Chase is so phlegmatic that a simple raised eyebrow qualifies as a special effect.

The story itself -- which was written by Jim Cruickshank and James Orr, who also directed -- is not nearly as superficial as the star's detachment would indicate. Ever since his father walked out some years earlier, Ben (Jonathan Taylor Thomas of TV's "Home Improvement") and his beautiful doting mother (Farrah Fawcett) have been inseparable. As far as he's concerned, everything is perfect. Then, out of nowhere, this dork Jack starts crowding in on his territory. Ben decides to make the interloper's life miserable, torturing him mercilessly until he calls it quits. Then life can return to normal.

In order to accomplish this, Ben enrolls himself and Jack in the Indian Guides, an activity group designed to foster better relations between fathers and sons. Of course, Ben is hoping for the opposite -- that after a few weeks of potato bowling and making name tags out of macaroni, Jack will throw in the towel and forget the whole dad thing.

As it turns out, though, Mom's boyfriend has staying power. Also, despite himself, Ben starts to really dig the Indian Guides thing -- especially after Jack brings in a "real" Native American to teach them how to shoot bows and arrows and hurl tomahawks. Amazingly, Ben even begins to dig ol' Jack, who, at the close of a long tale about an Indian brave and his mother -- Lotsa Hair -- observes wisely (paraphrasing "Gump"), "Pooh happens."

Even if Chase had done more than wander through his role, the flip-flopping mix of dumb comedy and PC seriousness would have been difficult to pull off. As is, the film seems split between the soporific Chase and a simplistic lesson on the subject of getting along. And neither one is worth watching.

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