For their parents’ 18th anniversary, siblings Grover and Stacy Beindorf have prepared a highlights tape of the couple’s life together, beginning with shots from their festive wedding and blue Hawaiian honeymoon, and including the momentous arrivals of the kids themselves.
There’s just one problem. On the day they hand over the present, Mom and Dad announce their separation. They don’t want to look back, they want to look ahead. So, what is there for two loving, devastated, resourceful children to do but lock their parents in the basement until they come to their senses?
The premise for “House Arrest” might lead to a lively hour for Sally Jessy Raphael (“Parents kidnapped by their kids”) or an episode of “Married . . . With Children” (and don’t forget to throw the key away). But it’s a thin concept for a feature film and in the hands of director Harry Winer, it’s a painful way to spend a couple of hours in a theater.
Borrowing generously from “Parent Trap” and “Home Alone,” screenwriter Michael Hitchcock has created “the gag that won’t end.” First, it’s just the Beindorfs (Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Pollak) locked in the basement, then a host of other hostages. You see, locking your parents in the basement seems such a cool idea, the high school friends of Grover (Kyle Howard) decide to kidnap their parents and toss them into the same cell.
Grover’s friend Matt (Mooky Arizona) has a geeky father (Wallace Shawn) who gets married and divorced every other year and a chain-smoking stepmother (Caroline Aaron) desperate to break the cycle. T.J. Krupp (Russel Harper), the school bully, has a lawyer father (Christopher McDonald) who cheats on his wife (Sheila McCarthy) when he isn’t abusing her. And Brooke (Jennifer Love Hewitt), the school beauty, has a New Age mom (Jennifer Tilly) who needs be to convinced they’re not sisters.
Soon, but not to be over soon, we have a suburban Ohio house whose basement is full of bickering adults, and the rest overrun with unsupervised children and pets.
There are some funny bits scattered throughout the chaos. The predicament of seven adults sharing a basement with an unfinished bathroom has possibilities. But the characters are so broadly overdrawn and the performances so over the top, it’s a tossup as to which hell you’d least like to visit. Upstairs? Downstairs?
Pollak and Curtis generally ignore the premise and the silliness in the basement to create a convincingly sincere couple. They seize on the one kernel of an idea in the script--that couples compelled to face their problems are more apt to solve them--and treat it like a 911 call. It leads to some overheated soul-searching best saved for a more serious movie, but it’s all we get.
Looking out at the squads of police cars that eventually surround the house, the Beindorfs comfort each other with the thought that they must have done something right to have raised kids who care that much. It makes them feel better, but it’s not much solace for the rest of us.
* MPAA rating: PG, for thematic material and language. Times guidelines: Angry shouting between parents may scare little kids.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Kyle Howard: Grover Beindorf
Russel Harper: T.J. Krupp
Jamie Lee Curtis: Janet Beindorf
Kevin Pollak: Ned Beindorf
Amy Sakasitz: Stacy Beindorf
A Rysher Entertainment presentation, released by MGM/UA. Director Harry Winer. Producers Judith A. Polone, Winer. Screenplay Michael Hitchcock. Editor Ronald Roose. Cinematography Ueli Steiger. Costumes Hope Hanafin. Production design Peter Jamison. Music Bruce Broughton. Art direction, Chris Cornwell. Set design, Cosmas Demetriou. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.