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No cheers for Tommy Lee Jones in ‘Man of the House’

Rama Gottumukkala | Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Tommy Lee Jones has done this dance once before. Actually, make that several times.Playing a gruff, harsh and uptight mentor armed with a dry wit has been a choice role over the course of his career. In the “Men in Black” series, for example, Jones’ dry wit teamed with Will Smith’s youthful energy added up to major change at the box office. Unfortunately, Jones’s latest offering, “Man of the House,” is a mediocre attempt to capitalize on his comedic value and falls short with what could have been an intriguing concept.In the film, Jones plays Roland Sharp, a Texas Ranger assigned to protect the only witnesses to the murder of a key figure in the prosecution of a drug kingpin. These witnesses turn out to be five female University of Texas cheerleaders and present quite a handful for Jones. Sharp is forced to go undercover as an assistant cheerleading coach and move in with his young wards to protect them and solve the murder.As if that wasn’t enough to cover all the major plot points, there’s still the obligatory feel-good effect that Jones has on the girls and vice versa. He helps them realize their individual potentials, whether it be to write an eloquent essay on Romeo and Juliet or be the father figure they never had. And, naturally, they help him tap into his hidden sensibilities and break out of his harsh shell to get closer to his estranged daughter and impress a new love interest.It’s really not the clichés that kill this film. There are still some laughs to be had and the ladies cast as the bubbly cheerleaders are all easy on the eyes, particularly R&B star Christina Milian and actress Paula Garcés. There are moments when the film flashes a little Southern charm. Cedric the Entertainer tosses in a chuckle or two in a supporting role as an ex-Longhorn cheerleader. But the laughs are few and too far between to justify watching “Man of the House” when a comedic gem like “Hitch” is still in theatres. As it turns out, in that latter film, Smith outshines his “Men in Black” cohort and shows that it takes a little more to make a heart-warming comedy than a handful of punch lines.Jones does an adequate job with the role of the gruff Sharp in this film and manages to make audiences sympathize with him. But “Man of the House” is missing one of the bare essentials to a good film – a decent screenplay. The material just doesn’t seem fresh or funny and this dooms any attempt Jones makes to stamp his comedic wares on audiences. As funny as it is to see Jones forced to have a make-over by his female charges, the appeal is quickly lost due to poor dialogue and poor pacing. If they’re not paying close attention, casual viewers may even be left scratching their heads at why the initial murder has an impact on Sharp’s drug case. The stale script causes all sorts of problems for the film. According to the International Movie Database website, no one – cast or crew – could think of an appropriate ending until director Stephen Herek came up with one months after the rest of the film was shot. Ouch.It seems like a long time ago, but Jones once won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in “Fugitive,” the Harrison Ford thriller. After a dud like “Man of the House,” he might be better pressed to flex his acting muscles in another dramatic role. A role in the next Clint Eastwood-directed film probably couldn’t hurt.