A not particularly enlightening look at a commitment-phobic Casanova, veteran writer-director Bobby Roth's 2001 indie "Jack the Dog" did not beg sequelizing, either on artistic or commercial grounds. Ergo a certain measure of awe must be granted "Manhood," which not only provides the follow-up few were waiting for, but manages to get the job done more misguidedly than one would have thought possible.
A not particularly enlightening look at a commitment-phobic Casanova, veteran writer-director Bobby Roth’s 2001 indie “Jack the Dog” did not beg sequelizing, either on artistic or commercial grounds. Ergo a certain measure of awe must be granted “Manhood,” which not only provides the follow-up few were waiting for, but manages to get the job done more misguidedly than one would have thought possible. Mix of the maudlin and tastelessly unfunny makes for an indigestible cocktail, with unearned tragic melodrama capping matters. Some name players will aid modest ancillary prospects. Barring self-distribution, hopes for theatrical life look impotent.
Somewhat reformed since events of last film — recapped in opening seg — Jack (Nestor Carbonell) has eschewed his former life of globetrotting, model-shagging photographer to stay in L.A. as single parent to now-14-year-old son Sam (Andrew Ferchland). Ex-wife Faith (Barbara Williams), who now lives in London, rather improbably gave up custody of the kid. Jack is also seeing a therapist (Bonnie Bedelia) to work on his emotional issues with women.
Things seem to be going well enough until Jack’s sibling Jill (Janeane Garofalo) shows up. She’s finally kicked out cheating slime bag husband of 22 years Eli (John Ritter), and needs some time alone to “clear her head.” That means the unceremonious dumping of Jill’s son Charlie (Nick Roth) on Jack’s doorstep — for a month, or so. Charlie is a nose-pierced high school truant who proves a destabilizing influence on the hitherto docile Sam. In no time, they’re caught watching dad’s hidden porn tapes, then busted by police in his absence holding an underage house party with booze and pot.
These adolescent transgressions are nothing, however, compared to the disasters soon wrought by Eli, who also turns up on Jack’s doorstep. Fired from his job for seducing the boss’s wife, he claims to want Jill back. Jack reluctantly lends the homeless slob couch space for a while. But Eli is beyond sympathy — he’s a petty thief, a horrible father, and so irresponsible that he brings professional dominatrix/prostitute Bambi (Lauren Tom, who played a different role in “Dog”) “home” to do the nasty where the boys can see it.
This last offense finally gets him thrown out, whereupon Eli stages a desperate act that finally leads to pic’s grossly overblown/underfelt finale.
Roth’s direction doesn’t find any comfortable integration of comic and dramatic elements, as Jack’s voiceover struggles to patch holes in haphazard, depth-free narrative. The crude sex talk (replacing “Dog’s” more graphic on-screen sexual acts) is tasteless rather than witty, and the finale that brings surviving family members closer together comes off as an insultingly cheap, sensational device — a desperate script gambit akin to emotional pornography.
Carbonell’s cold-fish perf makes Jack an unappealing protag, too humorless and vain despite his newfound role as domestic moral champion. Ritter and Garofalo do their best with characters whose contradictions are rigged rather than explored.
For a pic that allegedly critiques the Lothario misogyny, “Manhood” seems oblivious to its own expression of the same — women here are predatory, trashy, or pure vengeful-bitch (as in Williams’ ex-wife). Bedelia has a particularly demeaning role as an older therapist who throws away professional standards to lust after her own client. Bits by notable thesps (Tom Arnold, Traci Lords, Chris Mulkey, etc.) add zilch.
Despite widescreen format and 35mm transfer, digital-vid transfer looks it, with moments that appear blown-up or grainy. Original score by Christopher Franke sounds a tacky sentimental note, rendering soundtracked anthems by Patty Scialfa and Bruce Springsteen contextually banal.