Davis Steve Martin Universal’s “HouseSitter,” a tediously unfunny screwball comedy, is a career misstep for both Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn. Hawn is grating as the kind of giggly flake she played two decades ago on “Laugh-In,” and Martin is more obnoxious than endearing as the New England architect whose life she invades. This looks like a B.O. dud.
“HouseSitter” sounds like the kind of dumb “high-concept” idea a producer would have, and, sure enough, producer Brian Grazer shares story credit with screenwriter Mark Stein on the Imagine Films Entertainment pic. Writers usually don’t like it when producers insist on sharing credit, but in this case, Stein should be glad to have someone to share the blame.
Martin’s in love with wholesome Dana Delany, who lives in the quaint New England village of Dobbs Mill. But she deals him an emotional blow by refusing to marry him and move into the new architectural showcase he’s built in the countryside.
Enter Hawn. After they meet cute while she’s working as a waitress and putting on a Hungarian accent, they have a one-night stand. He leaves without saying anything the next morning, so she tracks him to the empty house. She moves in, telling everyone in town that she’s his new wife, and they believe her.
The setup isn’t very amusing, and the plot machinations once Hawn hits the small town are languidly paced and excruciatingly obvious. The only suspense is whether Delany will change her mind about Martin, due to her growing jealousy over Hawn, which he encourages. It isn’t enough to sustain interest.
Although Hawn has audience sympathy initially because of Martin’s callous snobbery after their sexual encounter, her supposedly zany antics quickly become wearying. Though she looks terrif, it’s unbecoming for a middle-aged woman to be playing the kind of goofball she played in her youth.
The mendacious character comes off as mentally unbalanced, not charming, and her intrusion into Martin’s life seems faintly sinister, like that of a deranged fan stalking a celebrity. Her conning of Martin’s estranged parents (Donald Moffat and Julie Harris), who are delighted that their flighty son is settling down, comes off as a cruel toying with their emotions.
Despite her declaration that she “didn’t want to marry a dreamer–I’m not that brave,” the forthright Delany seems far more appealing than Hawn, but that makes her hesitation all the more exasperating, both for Martin and for the viewer.
Martin has patented wild-and-crazy moments here and there (including a wonderful pratfall), but appears uncomfortable for much of the pic, never more so than when he has to sing an Irish lullaby to his father at a party. The rendition starts as tongue-in-cheek droll, but winds up making the audience squirm.
Frank Oz proves no wizard with his direction of this nonsense. John A. Alonzo’s crisp, sunny lensing is about all that keeps the movie bearable to watch.