Film: "House Arrest"
Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Pollak and Jennifer Tilly
Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer/Rysher Entertainment
Rated; PG (Mild Profanity)
Quality: a star and a half (on a scale of zero to four stars)
It's Upstairs, Downstairs at the Bundys in ``House Arrest,'' an unfunny domestic comedy about dysfunctional parents and wiseacre kids.
Borrowing liberally from both ``The Parent Trap'' and ``The Great Escape,'' this misguided attempt at family farce rests on a couple of incompatible premises -- romantic matchmaking and imprisoned dispair.
The film boasts a strong cast that struggles mightily to bring some cohesiveness to the material but deserves much better than director Harry Winer and screenwriter Michael Hitchcock give them.
Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Pollak star as the Beindorfs, an unblissfully wedded couple who decide on their 18th anniversary to split the sheets, only to have their two too-precocious children, Grover and Stacy (Kyle Howard and Amy Sakasitz), undertake a drastic ``divorce intervention.''
Specifically, they barricade their bickering parents in the basement and dictate that the adults will stay there until they patch things up. It's the table-turning equivalent of the old ``go to your room and stay there until you learn to behave'' ploy employed by parents for generations.
Grounding your parents -- that's little enough to build a feature film on. But Winer, a TV veteran, and Hitchcock, who penned the gritty ``Where the Day Takes You,'' pad things out by rounding up a gaggle of neighborhood kids who think this is such a neato idea that they lure their own screwed-up parents into the Beindorfs' basement to create a teeming little subterranean suburban stalag.
Comedy is supposed to arise from the assortment of adult angst that's convened in the basement. There's an obnoxious, sexist attorney (Christopher McDonald) who cheats on his timid wife (Sheila McCarthy); a geeky, jokester father (Wallace Shawn) who changes wives yearly (his latest is the insecure Caroline Aaron), and a spacy New Age single mom (Jennifer Tilly) who needs to be convinced she's not the same age as her daughter.
It's in this loony bin lock-up that the Biendorfs supposedly work out their problems -- when they're not hammering away at cement blocks or trying to escape through the boarded-up laundry chute.
Curtis and Pollak come close to elevating this goofy premise in some scenes as they create a convincingly sincere couple trapped in a bad, noisy movie. But even as they try to magnify the story's one grain of truth -- that couples must labor mightily at working out their differences -- all around them chaos reigns.
Upstairs, unsupervised kids and pets run wild; downstairs cartoonishly over-the-top adults bicker endlessly. There are occasional laughs to be gleaned from the predicament (as seven adults sharing an unfinished basement bathroom would suggest). But the laughs are pained and all too few.
And in the end the movie's feel- good lessons seem hollow.
Mostly, ``House Arrest'' feels like a couple of tedious hours of imprisonment in the movie theater.