House Arrest

1996, PG, 108 min. Directed by Harry Winer. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Pollak, Jennifer Tilly, Kyle Howard, Christopher McDonald, Sheila McCarthy, Wallace Shawn, Caroline Aaron, Mooky Arizona, Russel Harper, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ray Walston.

REVIEWED By Robert Faires, Fri., Aug. 23, 1996

Attention, Wallace Shawn fans: In this film, our man Wally gets to stretch somewhat as an actor, playing a salesman for a big-and-tall men's clothing store (!) who's known for his garrulous manner (!!). It allows the Shawnster not only to cackle and whine (his trademarks), but also to slow dance and try his hand at Operation!, the Milton Bradley board game. Sure, it's no My Dinner With Andre, but if you're hard up for a fix of this gnomish character actor doing his thing, House Arrest certainly gives you that. It doesn't give you much else, but it gives you that. Beyond hardcore Wally Shawn junkies, it's hard to know who will find much to like in this pallid comedy. Oh, it may make a serviceable revenge fantasy for a few teens not yet out from under their parents' thumbs, but then, there's really no revenge here. Yes, a handful of young'uns lock a group of parents in a basement, but, see, they only do that because they're afraid their folks are splitting up, and they figure a big people's time-out will make them work out their marital problems. The kids do trash the house a bit, but they clean it right up and turn their energies toward junior-grade therapy sessions with the bickering moms and dads. That's getting even, huh? This is not to say that screenwriter Michael Hitchcock should have made this a tale of teen payback, but it would have been nice if he'd made it something more than it is. For a story about preserving families, the kids and adults stay awfully distant; the grown-ups are jailed before we see them really interact with the kids, and their sustained sniping makes them pretty unappealing characters. Moreover, for a comedy, neither Hitchcock nor director Winer (Spacecamp) do much to play up the laughs. They certainly don't take advantage of the ample comic talent at their disposal; Pollak and Curtis have to play their roles straight and that ripe old scene-stealer Walston is given nothing to do but peer through binoculars and harrumph like Gladys on Bewitched. And it's not as if the film takes pains to be realistic; these kids take a few wires and leftover toys and concoct Rube Goldberg gadgets to make McGyver weep. But the true imaginative flourishes are few and far between. Mostly, we get a string of tame set-pieces, one-dimensional characterizations, odd continuity gaps, and heavy-handed attempts at feel-good sentiment. On second thought, Wally Shawn fans, go rent Vanya on 42nd Street. Better you should see the man when he isn't slumming.

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House Arrest, Harry Winer, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Pollak, Jennifer Tilly, Kyle Howard, Christopher McDonald, Sheila McCarthy, Wallace Shawn, Caroline Aaron, Mooky Arizona, Russel Harper, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ray Walston

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