By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated March 02, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST
Man of the House: Van Redin

In playing an ornery Texas Ranger whose routines are undone by an armload of nubile college cheerleaders in the negligible burlesque Man of the House, Tommy Lee Jones follows the old cowboy wisdom — bogus, as it turns out — that guys famous for playing tough cookies look cute in comedies when overmatched by the operational mysteries of women or children. Walking the path grooved by such stone-faced confreres as De Niro and Schwarzenegger (and following up on his own more successful self-parody in Men in Black), Jones positions himself as a Man in a Stetson: His Roland Sharp is such a buzzkill that his wife has bailed, and such a workaholic that his teenage daughter has withdrawn.

Sharp’s world is rocked when he’s assigned to protect a quintet of University of Texas coeds who are the only witnesses to a murder, an assignment that can be accomplished only by going undercover and living with them in their estrogen-rich campus digs; by the time he makes a run to purchase tampons, he’s well on the way to becoming a good grump, rewarded with the possibility of a romance with an attractive, age-appropriate divorced literature professor (Anne Archer).

Sharp becomes a better father to his own girl, of course, in the mild script by Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, and John J. McLaughlin. And as directed by UT film-school grad Stephen Herek (Critters), an old pro who understands the appeal of teen midriffs, the cheerleaders (Christina Milian from Be Cool, Monica Keena, Paula Garces, Vanessa Ferlito, and Kelli Garner) become smarter, nicer, less diet-obsessed young women before the antics are over.

But I venture that this is not what we really want from Tommy Lee Jones — scenes concerned with feminine panty liners (”with wings”: the two funniest words in the dictionary of hygiene supplies), masculine ear-hair trimming, and, for no acceptable reason, Sharp’s retrieval of a cell phone stashed up a cow’s rectum by a nervous ex-con-turned-preacher. Why Cedric the Entertainer plays the phone owner is a secret known only to Men in Black‘s Agent K.