Man of the House

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Between R. Lee Ermey and Tommy Lee Jones, “Man of the House” is a very eyebrow-ful movie, not to mention a Guy Named Lee-ful movie. It is not, however, despite its best efforts, an awful movie, but merely a lazy one. In fact, it’s occasionally even charming, almost in spite of itself.

Because man, this thing sure does try to make you hate it. Before it’s even five minutes old, Cedric the Entertainer has already hidden a cell phone in a cow’s rectum, and Tommy Lee Jones has put on a long plastic glove and retrieved it. Usually a comedy is in its second hour before it gets desperate enough to try a joke like that, and here’s “Man of the House” doing it before the opening credits have even finished rolling.

The first 20 minutes are more violent than you expect a frilly comedy to be, too, director Stephen Herek (“Holy Man,” “Mr. Holland’s Opus”) finding it necessary to show us several police shootouts in order to establish the plot.

Which is as follows. Texas Ranger Roland Sharp (Tommy Lee Jones) must protect five University of Texas cheerleaders who have witnessed a murder. The victim was a bad guy himself, part of some elaborate web of shady dealings whose specific nature the movie does not bother to tell us. (It probably knows we don’t care. I assume it’s drugs, because it’s usually drugs.)

Sharp thinks it’s best if no one knows there even ARE witnesses, let alone their identities, so he moves into the girls’ house near the UT campus, undercover as the new assistant cheerleading coach. With a no-nonsense man like Sharp sharing quarters with five boy-crazy 20-year-olds, you can imagine the wackiness and hijinks that will surely ensue.

They do ensue for a little while, and that’s where the otherwise lame movie manages to earn a few chuckles. Tommy Lee Jones is to be thanked for most of them; goodness knows the pale script (by Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone and John J. McLaughlin) doesn’t give him much to work with. Jones is serious enough as an actor to know that even throwaway roles like this one require dedication and intensity. His delivery is terse, dry and deadpan — exactly the counterpart needed for the five fairly ditzy girls he’s living with.

Sharp helps one of them, Barb (Kelli Garner), with her “Romeo and Juliet” report — how come college and high school classes in movies are ALWAYS studying Shakespeare? — and the girls help him on his date with Barb’s English professor (Anne Archer). They help him loosen up, he helps them become more serious. You know the drill.

Alas, the movie soon becomes stagnant. It establishes a good comedic premise, uses it well enough for 15 minutes or so … and then finds it has another 30 minutes to kill before it’s time to get back to the “action” part of the film, where the bad guys come after the cheerleaders. That half-hour is dreadfully listless, nearly undoing whatever goodwill the film had earned after the unfortunate cow-butt incident. This is a movie with a solid lead actor, appealing supporting actresses, a reasonably good idea — but nothing else. These things don’t just write themselves, you know.

C (1 hr., 37 min.; PG-13, a little profanity, a lot of violence.)

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