Man of the House Stephen Herek

Critics begin to quake when they catch wind of Tommy Lee Jones making like a Texas Ranger in a houseful of cheerleaders; we have a low tolerance for gimmicks, and Man of the House is a gimmick movie all the way. But we can at least hope and pray that the filmmakers will have sense enough to play into whatever limited strengths the gimmick might have and thus save us from watching them shoot low and miss. And so when Tommy Lee must protect these cheerleaders, who are also witnesses to a murder, we at least hope there will be some wilfully grotesque caricatures and some sense that the gimmick is just what it is. But no. Stephen Herek directs the whole thing like it were an actual movie that's about something, which to him means nothing at all — a little cheesecake notwithstanding, the stereotyped girls just sit there like something off kiddie television, chained to some banal director's insistence that we actually take things semi-seriously. (I've decided not to tell you of Cedric the Entertainer's Stepin Fetchit humiliations). You can't go back and forth between a gimmick and a theme, because the two concepts are antithetical: one is broad and plastic, the other detailed and concrete, and hedging your bets on the two will result in a lopsided freak with no home or purpose. It'll also result in some critics staring glassy-eyed at their monitors, but hey, we knew the job was dangerous when we took it. The only extras are a blissfully brief "making of" featurette and an even shorter clip of the cheerleading number preparations. (Columbia/Sony)