Homevideo may be the best venue for “House Arrest,” a tepid and repetitious comedy that won’t capture the attention of many ticketbuyers during its theatrical run. This extremely mild “Home Alone” wannabe gets low mileage from a high concept, stretching a one-joke premise to the point of tedium and beyond.
Michael Hitchcock’s formulaic screenplay is a kind of wish-fulfillment fantasy for children of divorce. Newcomer Kyle Howard plays Grover, a junior high-schooler who’s devastated when his mother (Jamie Lee Curtis) and father (Kevin Pollak) announce plans to end their 18-year marriage. In Grover’s view, his parents are acting like squabbling children. So he decides they should be grounded. Indefinitely.
With the help of his younger sister, Stacy (Amy Sakasitz), Grover lures his parents into the basement, then locks the door. They won’t be let free, he tells them, until they patch up their differences. Naturally, Grover’s parents are greatly angered by this turn of events. Just as naturally, the classmates who learn of Grover’s radical marriage-preservation program are greatly impressed.
So impressed, in fact, that three of the classmates decide their parents should also be locked up in Grover’s basement, where they can benefit from force-fed group therapy.
Matt (Mooky Arizona), Grover’s best friend, fears his father (Wallace Shawn) is thinking about divorcing Matt’s stepmother (Caroline Aaron). T.J. Krupp (Russel Harper), the school bully, has even more cause to think that his parents are on the verge of splitsville — he catches his abrasive lawyer father (Christopher McDonald) in the arms of another woman while his mother (Sheila McCarthy) isn’t around.
Divorce isn’t a concern for Brooke (Jennifer Love Hewitt), the prettiest girl in school and the object of Grover’s affections. But Brooke is annoyed that her single mom (Jennifer Tilly) is a little too eager to dress and act like, well, Brooke. Brooke figures her mother needs to grow up, fast. And an extended stay in Grover’s basement may be just what she needs.
Under the uninspired direction of Harry Winer (“SpaceCamp”), “House Arrest” plods along a thoroughly predictable path. While the parents bicker and grate on each other’s nerves downstairs, the kids eat what they want, when they want, and party hearty upstairs. Well, OK, they party as hearty as any teenager can in a PG-rated movie. The one time these wild and crazykids try to drink an alcoholic beverage — champagne — they immediately spit out the nasty stuff. Somehow you get the feeling that if the “Brady Bunch” kids had ever been left to their own devices, even they would have misbehaved more than these cherubs.
“House Arrest” doesn’t bother to defy logic. Instead, the movie simply ignores logic. Despite the snooping of a nosy neighbor (Ray Walston), Grover and his young friends find it miraculously easy to keep their parents imprisoned. The prolonged absence of these grown-ups is little noted by other adults in the outside world. And on those rare occasions when an inquisitive adult actually does show up at the front door, the quick-thinking kids manage to keep their cool.
Little of this is genuinely funny, and all of it takes much too long to happen. “House Arrest” is so slackly paced, viewers have time to ponder questions that the filmmakers would prefer to avoid. Such as, why should T.J. really want a bullying thug like his father to remain married to his mother? (McDonald is a tad too convincing in his efforts to make the lawyer a condescending blowhard.) And, for that matter, how has Grover’s seemingly easygoing father been able to put up with Grover’s anal-retentive mother for 18 years?
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of “House Arrest” is its underlying message: If kids are clever and resourceful enough, they can reunite their estranged parents. To be sure, many other comedies, ranging from “The Parent Trap” to “All I Want for Christmas,” have peddled the same dubious bill of goods. But for many, many children of divorce, a movie such as “Home Arrest” will only serve to reinforcetheir darkest suspicions that they somehow are responsible for their parents’ breakup, simply because they weren’t resourceful enough to keep them together.
The performances in “House Arrest” range from game efforts (Curtis, Pollak) to broad caricatures (McCarthy, Tilly). In a class by himself: Harper, who seems to be doing a feature-length impersonation of Crispin Glover. Howard and Hewitt are attractive and engaging, but they can’t blunt the edge of arrogance their characters reveal through rash actions.
Tech credits are unremarkable. The funniest thing in the entire movie is an announcement in the closing credits that, even though Grover and his friends use Yale locks to keep their parents imprisoned, “Nothing in this film is intended to describe or depict the actual performance of Yale locks or other products of Yale Security Inc.” No kidding.