By Owen Gleiberman
Updated March 17, 1995 at 05:00 AM EST

In Man of the House, Chevy Chase tries his most desperate career move yet: sincerity. Having spent the better part of two decades sustaining his stardom on a wink and a shrug, he now looks wan and defeated, bored with his own reflexive irony. His tanned, pudgy features — a joker’s mask gone to seed — don’t appear to have the energy left to smirk. Man of the House, a lethargic family comedy, allows Chase to reinvent himself as an earnest daddy wannabe, a Seattle prosecutor who desires nothing more than to settle down with his sweetheart (Farrah Fawcett) and become a doting stepfather to her cool-jerk son (Home Improvement‘s Jonathan Taylor Thomas, who looks like a prepubescent Val Kilmer). As a performer, Chase hasn’t lost his air of foggy detachment; he still delivers his lines as if he were reading them off a TelePrompTer mounted somewhere in the next room. This time, though, he attempts to pass off his deadpan quizzicality as concern. It’s an eerie sight. I mean, does anyone really want to watch Chevy Chase try to be heartwarming? He had more conviction reporting the death of Franco.

Eager to be rid of his new faux dad, the kid drags him to a meeting of the Indian Guides, where fathers and sons don feathers and fringed vests and christen one another with names like Squatting Dog. Man of the House is borderline amusing for the one or two scenes in which it seems to recognize that the Indian Guides are a suburban embarrassment: Iron John gone Disney World. But by the end, the troupe has brought Chase and Thomas closer together, and we’re supposed to bask in their newly enlightened ”native” glow. The film’s low point is a skin-crawling montage in which everyone does a rain dance to the pumped-up beat of ”Gonna Make You Sweat.” I’d be hard-pressed to say whom this sequence insults more: Native Americans, who’ve been trying to outrun these tribal-kitsch cliches for years, or fathers and sons, who — according to Man of the House — have no hope of bonding apart from their shared eagerness to act like degraded idiots.

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