Now that “The Santa Clause” has filled its stockings, Disney has initiated the process of turning another regular from the studio’s hit TV series “Home Improvement”– this time Jonathan Taylor Thomas — into a cottage industry. While this first vehicle is low on fuel, Thomas (also the voice of Young Simba in “The Lion King”) appears destined for better things, and Disney should corner a share of the youth market with this inoffensive if seldom funny comedy.
Chevy Chase may get top billing, but the movie’s one-sheet — with Thomas dangling a puppet-size Chase on strings — is more indicative of its real focus and appeal.
Unfortunately, Thomas is stuck playing a character so bratty that adults may wonder why someonehasn’t throttled the kid, his wry one-liners notwithstanding.
Produced through Bette Midler’s company and that of writers James Orr & Jim Cruickshank, with Orr also directing, the simple premise has Jack Sturges (Chase), a district attorney, trying to win over Ben (Thomas), the young son of the woman he plans to marry (Farrah Fawcett).
Abandoned by his father and therefore wary of potential suitors, Ben schemes to get Jack out of the picture, signing them up for Indian Guides in an attempt to scare off his would-be stepdad. The subplot, limited at best, involves a mobster (Richard Portnow) plotting his own, somewhat more dire revenge against Jack.
While one can feel for Ben and admire his precociousness (he frequently contends he’s suffering from psychological conditions he’s seen on shows such as “Geraldo”), it’s hard to believe that his mother generally tolerates his dictatorial behavior.
In addition, the gags concocted by Cruickshank and Orr (their previous collaborations include “Sister Act 2” and “Three Men and a Baby”) at best approach the level of a standard sitcom and for the
most part aren’t screwball enough to impress young kids, while older ones as well as their parents may be a trifle bored. As a result, the pic drags considerably before rallying to a reasonably satisfying and emotional conclusion.
Chase is less manic than in some previous incarnations despite a few moments of physical comedy,while Fawcett has little to do but look radiant and occasionally stern. For the most part, the show belongs to Thomas, who, despite the script’s limitations, displays a bit more acting range than his TV fans may have seen, in addition to his characteristically droll delivery.
Beyond that, everyone is a cartoon, especially the mobsters, who wear severe blue suits even in the woods. George Wendt turns up as one of the Indian Guide dads, while one of the stranger choices has David Shiner — a gifted mime who’s appeared with Cirque du Soleil — playing another father who mimes all of his interaction. Whatever.
Tech credits are generally sound, with Vancouver standing in for neighboring Seattle. All told, “Man of the House” isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s certainly a fixer-upper.