Dir: Stephen Herek. US.2005. 100mins.

A dispiriting tale abouta group of cheerleaders who observe a murder and then must be protected, ManOf The House is a colourless concept comedy without much else going for itoutside of concept; an artificial crowd-pleaser that throws a few feeblecharacter types at the screen and then shifts into cruise control, yawning andrubbing its eyes all the way to the bank. If movies had vanity license plates,this one's would be "Why Try Harder'"

Stateside theatrical prospectsso far have been muted, with it registering an estimated $9m from around 2,422screens, despite the large and enthusiastic mainstream fanbase that star TommyLee Jones has accrued through the Men In Black films

Though cast here as the leadsecond banana, the situation is suitably outlandish enough to satisfyconventional comedy fans wanting to see nothing more than Jones rehash hischaracteristic exhausted deadpan wit.

International audiences,however, may find the story lacking and the movie's reliance on certain Texanspeech mannerisms more perplexing than humorous.

Jones stars as Roland Sharp,a no-nonsense Texas Ranger who finds his sanity tested when five University ofTexas cheerleaders witness a murder that also leaves his partner wounded. Afterthey report what they saw to authorities, Sharp moves in as protector of thegirls. It's quickly revealed that corrupt federal agent Eddie Zane (Basic'sBrian Van Holt) is out to tie up loose ends, and Roland has good reason to becautious.

Roland then wheedles somemore information out of crooked preacher Percy Stevens (Cedric theEntertainer), a former inmate turned reluctant informant, to help protect thegirls and his own semi-estranged teenage daughter Emma (Shannon MarieWoodward), who Eddie drags into the fray.

Putative A-plot aside, thefilm also finds plenty of time for Roland to inspire one of the girls to writeher own research paper instead of plagiarise, as well as develop a crush on oneof the girl's professors, Dr Molly McCarthy (Anne Archer), and indulge the twoon a nervous date where the encouraging ladies make use of Roland'ssurveillance equipment.

Its premise would seem topromise a raucous comedy of sharp, highly defined contrasts (young versus old,perky versus staid), but the utterly predictable Man Of The House is fartoo innocuous and shaped by bland consensus to leave a lasting impression; it'sa paint-by-numbers comedy whose jokes - both physical comedy set pieces andeven dialogue - audiences can almost recite verbatim along with the movieduring a first viewing. The character and disposition of the five girls changeto suit the needs of any given scene, and Herek (Rock Star, Mr.Holland's Opus) doesn't imprint any sort of overarching compellingpersonality on the film.

Emblematic of this is thefilm's have-its-cake-and-eat-it-too attitude toward its leonine femininity.Perhaps under the wan banner of "progress," it builds in not only requisiteopportunities to ogle their toned, tan bodies (including-easy, fellas-onefleeting and negligible "upskirt" moment), but also a stern, head-shakingadmonition, including one sequence in which Sharp installs a new airconditioner and cranks the thermostat down to 50 degrees in order to make theladies cover up.

It would be one thing if themovie stuck to this observational modesty, but moments later the midriffs arebare again, and so the oscillation between prurience and blinking, inculpableinnocence comes off as insincere and brainless, lame comedy for the moment thatundermines whatever little credibility the story might have.

Jones, also a producer here,acquits himself fine, though less is more when it comes to his pokerfaced foilroutine. He obviously enjoys on some level his unlikely second career as awell-paid comedic leading man (taxing character work or passion project biopicslike Cobb don't a comfy nest egg make), but needs fresher material and astronger ensemble.

Archer also, too oftenrelegated to sappy fare, is nice to see back on the big screen. Otherwise,however, this is an utterly forgettable movie. None of the ladies make aparticularly strong, break-out impression, and Man Of The House lives up(or is that down') to the blandness of its title.

Prod cos: Revolution Studios, Sony Pictures
US dist:
Int'l dist:
Sony PicturesReleasing Int'l
Exec prods:
Derek Dauchy, TommyLee Jones, Marty P Ewing
Todd Garner, StevenReuther, Allyn Stewart
Robert Ramsey & MatthewStone and John J. McLaughlin from a story by John J. McLaughlin & ScottLobdell
Peter Menzies, Jr
Prod des:
Nelson Coates
Chris Lebenzon, Joel Negron
David Newman, Tree Adams
Main cast:
Tommy Lee Jones,Monica Keena, Christina Milian, Paula Garces, Kelli Garner, Vanessa Ferlito,Anne Archer, Cedric the Entertainer, Brian Van Holt, R Lee Ermey