E1 Entertainment // 2009 // 95 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Chris Claro (Retired) // October 19th, 2010
Hey, Tim Allen, Hallmark Channel called. They want their movie back.
Now more than ever, lots of us do money jobs -- gigs that may not be worthy of us, or that we find unpleasant -- simply for the cash. Of course, 99.9% of us who do those jobs can keep them under the radar; nobody's watching us clean out gutters or write ad copy for smutty websites. But when movie stars take a money job, it's out there for everyone to see.
Not to begrudge anybody trying to make a little extra scratch; times are hard, after all. But just as audiences know when a star is working on a passion project he's nursed for years, or doing a voice in an animated film so his kids can watch his work, or taking a character role in an indie film to reinforce his bona fides, they should also be aware when a performer is filling a hole in his schedule with flat, uninspired work that just screams "boat payment."
Now, few of us would consider Tim Allen a beacon of creative integrity. With his resume peppered with family films and the classic Toy Story series, Allen's niche is as well-worn as an old pair of moccasins. But to his credit, Allen has been known to step out of his 21st-century Dean Jones persona to take some chances. In Who is Cletis Tout?, he held his own with Richard Dreyfuss and Billy Connolly, and he gave a surprisingly powerful performance in David Mamet's Redbelt. Even in a relative trifle like Galaxy Quest, Allen brought a specific and effective vulnerability to his Shatner-like Jason Nesmith.
Despite those forays into real acting, I'm sure Allen has payments on his boat -- or, more likely, his Learjet -- to make, and has to take the occasional money gig, so it is with great disappointment, bordering on disgust, that I say that I hope he was paid well, very well, for his work in The Six Wives of Henry Lefay.
When Henry Lefay, a five-times-married electronics dealer, dies suddenly, his daughter, mother, and every one of his ex-wives converge, each with her own memory of the scoundrel and how he should spend eternity. As their recollections swing from savage to sentimental, the ladies in Henry's life paint a picture of the deceased as a selfish horndog who cared only about himself.
As the direct-to-DVD tent begins to welcome more and more A-list stars -- witness Kevin Costner in The Good Daughter, Bruce Willis in Assassination of a High School President, and Richard Gere in The Flock -- it's no longer a stigma to bypass a theatrical release. Between the myriad funding sources, evanescent distributors, and the limited number of screens, theatrical exhibition is probably less star-driven than ever before. So seeing Tim Allen's name on a DVD that bypassed theaters doesn't necessarily raise eyebrows. However, once said DVD is placed in player and allowed to drain 90 minutes of the viewer's time, it's not eyebrows, but hackles that are raised.
The Six Wives of Henry Lefay is one of those films about a lovable rapscallion who fornicates his way through life, to the endless exasperation of those around him. Usually, these movies end with the guy learning how change his ways, keep his pants zipped, become a better father, etc. That's not the case here: as scummy as Henry is at the beginning of the movie, so is he an hour and a half later.
Allen, who looks tired and puffy throughout the film, seems to want to give Henry a redeeming quality or two, but really doesn't have the opportunity. Full of dopey, sniggering sex jokes and faux sentiment, the film's script, by director Howard Michael Gould, who wrote the similarly simplistic Mr. 3000, is puerile and offensive, with each of Henry's wives stamped with trite traits that shouldn't have made it past the first draft: Henry's second wife, Kate, (Andie Macdowell, Groundhog Day) is saintly and wise. Ophelia (Jenna Elfman, Dharma and Greg), wife number three and four, is drunk and horny. Effa (S. Epatha Merkerson, Law and Order), the wife who started it all for Henry, is soulful and forgiving. Number five, Veronica (Paz Vega, Spanglish), is fiery and vengeful. Throw in Henry's new-agey young wife, and his vampish new fiancee -- who also happens to be his daughter's high-school rival -- and almost all the stereotype boxes can be checked off. Not even the great Barbara Barrie (Breaking Away) escapes unscathed, as Henry's adorably doddering mother.
As Henry's long-suffering daughter, Elisha Cuthbert (24) almost escapes with her dignity intact. But in a wan will-she-or-won't-she subplot she must contend not only with her father's aforementioned fiancee, but with the pursuit of both a moony boyfriend (Eric Christian Olsen, Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd) and a hometown guy (Chris Klein, American Pie). Cuthbert's character is extra trying because she's playing a woman who seemingly has it together, but falls for her father's charm time after time.
It's depressing to watch a performer who can be as appealing as Allen slogging through what looks like a low-rent cable flick. Clearly a cash gig for the actor, The Six Wives of Henry Lefay makes Allen's work in junk like Christmas with the Kranks look Oscar-worthy.
It would be nice to offset the mediocrity of The Six Wives of Henry Lefay by saying that it's visually stunning, but that would be a lie. The look of the film, like its story and acting, is workmanlike at best. Despite shooting on location -- with small-town Connecticut standing in for upstate New York -- The Six Wives of Henry Lefay looks like it was filmed in a week on a backlot within shouting distance of L.A. Though the transfer is fine, with crisp colors and little pixelation, it's in service to a product that isn't worth the effort. Likewise, the 5.1 audio is pointless. There are also no extras at all, which, despite the crappiness of the film, is a drag. It's almost more interesting to hear a director talk about a dog than it is to sit through Coppola expounding on a masterpiece.
Aside from the fact that Andie Macdowell remains as agelessly stunning as ever (even if her acting is still as wooden as a park bench), The Six Wives of Henry Lefay is a dispiriting waste of talent, time, and taste.
Review content copyright © 2010 Chris Claro; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13