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Man of the House manages to evade sitcom formula

Man of the House

Directed by James Orr.

Written by James Orr and Jim Cruickshank, based on a story by David Peckinpah

and Richard Jefferies.

Starring Chevy Chase, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Farrah Fawcett, and George Wendt.

Loews Copley Place.

By Kamal Swamidoss
Staff Reporter

Chevy Chase plays an attorney who moves in with a divorced mother (Farrah Fawcett) and her eleven-year-old son (Home Improvement's Jonathan Taylor Thomas). Thomas doesn't want life with his mom to change; it's been five years since his dad left, and things are just becoming good again. He's afraid Chase will ruin it, and he's determined to get him out of the picture. Chase is equally determined to show that he'll be a good husband and father.

The film has some unexpected qualities. At first, it felt like a sitcom set-up: Son tries to get rid of would-be stepdad. But it's soon evident that this film has a lot more than a sitcom. The plot isn't dumb, and you can really understand what everyone's doing and why they're doing it. Another pleasant surprise: The characters are a few specific people going through a big change in their lives. No one soliloquizes as a representative of any particular group.

Thomas narrates the set-up at the beginning. This is a good way to start the film. It concisely tells the story up to the point when Chase moves in. The film ends with Thomas' narration, too. Everything in between takes place in a month or so. The story doesn't skip around, and everything is easy to follow.

Thomas is playing an eleven-year-old, but he acts somewhat older. That difference shows especially well in an early scene with the three main characters: Thomas comes into the living room to see Chase and his mom kissing, and says, "Do you guys have to do that?" When Chase says he can't stay away from a pretty girl and adds, "Know what I mean?" with a wink and a smile, Thomas says, "I'm eleven; I hate girls." His tone of voice during that line could well define sarcasm.

Thomas is a good actor, but he's no Macaulay Culkin. Granted, this film is different from Culkin's works, so it's a little like the acting equivalent of comparing apples and oranges. But in general, Thomas doesn't have the on-screen presence that Culkin has. Then again, this may be due to other factors.

You can tell that the film was created by adults, because most of the scenes with just kids show how out of touch the creators are with the style of that age. The video games, the toys, the posters, and the clothes are presented by adults, and thus don't accurately show kids' style. But these are all superficial: The film is true-to-life in the important stuff, like relationships and dealing well with change.

George Wendt is convincing as Chase's guide into the world of step-parenthood. He plays the chief of a YMCA Little Guides troop, a father-son club that teaches togetherness through an American Indian theme. He imparts his wisdom from his own experiences about being a stepdad. His first few seconds on screen inspire memories of Norm, the guy he played on Cheers, but after that, he steps into a completely new character.

There are lots of funny scenes, but I was more entertained by the serious ones. The conflict between Thomas and Chase is believable. So are their reactions to each other throughout. In general, Man of the House is a good film, but its major drawback for me is that it was made for a younger audience.