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Case Number 06792

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House of Cards (1993)

Lionsgate // 1993 // 109 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Steve Evans (Retired) // May 13th, 2005

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All Rise...

Judge Steve Evans says that it doesn't take a big bad wolf to blow this house down.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of House of Cards: The Complete First Season (published June 17th, 2013), House of Cards: The Complete Second Season (Blu-ray) (published June 30th, 2014), and House of Cards: The Complete Third Season (Blu-ray) (published October 28th, 2015) are also available.

The Charge

A journey that will open your mind…and touch your heart.

Opening Statement

When a little girl withdraws from reality, her mother and psychiatrist devise a geometric design based on playing cards to bridge the abyss across her psychosis. Tiresome psychobabble ensues.

Facts of the Case

Young Sally (Asha Menina) develops symptoms suggesting autism after her archaeologist father dies in a fall from Mexican ruins. An old shaman in the village tells Sally that the dead travel to the moon and that if Sally remains quiet, she can hear them. Soon after Sally, her brother, and her mother (Kathleen Turner, Body Heat) return to the States, Sally stops speaking. But she makes intolerable, repetitive sounds when upset by the slightest disruption. Even her psychiatrist (Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive) cannot reach into the girl's mind. He diagnoses autism. Mom disagrees, though, and mother knows best.

Sally is actually listening for her father; presumably she believes he's on the moon, floating about in some sort of ectoplasmic state. So she constructs a fantastic house of cards as a mute statement—an apparent attempt to connect with her family and explain her annoying behavior.

Because it is necessary to the plot, her mom suddenly gets hip to the fact that Sally wants to communicate through her card house. Mom draws her own house-of-cards blueprint with the help of a computer-assisted design program, then nails the structure together out of plywood. The architecture resembles a strand of DNA, or maybe some crazy spiraling tower sprung from the mind of Dr. Seuss. Thus empowered, Sally and her mom scale the House of Cards, seeking enlightenment.

The Evidence

What we have here screams of ALLEGORY and SYMBOLISM in the service of cinematic drivel. Seldom have such important concerns as familial dysfunction and tragedy been so cloyingly manipulated for the sake of a movie. Artifice replaces angst. Incredulousness stands in for transcendence. As for stupidity, there's just no substitute.

The film was written and directed by Michael Lessac, whose credits are limited almost exclusively to television sitcoms like Taxi and Everybody Loves Raymond. In House of Cards, he fashions another comedy. This one is unintentional. When the laughter subsides, the movie inspires roiling waves of anger and resentment: anger that our intelligence would be so thoroughly insulted, resentment that 109 minutes of precious life would be squandered. This is like compulsory attendance at a play put on by middle-school children when none of your kids are in the cast.

Jones soldiers through this like a pro trying to fill the time between better projects. He won his Supporting Actor Oscar for The Fugitive, released the same year as House of Cards. Turner works so infrequently that she probably needed the money. The producers certainly got good value, as she overacts con gusto, generating enough thespian heat for two or three films. Problem is, she pumps life into her character like an ER physician trying to defibrillate a corpse—there's plenty of twitching to no positive effect. And the name Asha Menina will not soon be used in the same sentence as "accomplished actress." The character of Sally requires little more than a vacuous stare and the ability to make such toxic, redundant, mind-splitting screeches that House of Cards might better serve as a high school training film extolling the merits of birth control.

The review disc was presented in full screen, not that an anamorphic widescreen presentation would have made a difference.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

In defense of this flick, most of the shots are in focus. The cinematography by Victor Hammer shows artistic flair. The soundtrack is in sync. As for the DVD, extras are limited to a pair of trailers for other Lions Gate films (Stage Beauty and Danny Deck Chair). The 2.0 audio is clean, but uninspired. Digital video compression is clear and free of artifacts. Beyond that, the movie flat-out tanks.

Closing Statement

Close scrutiny of this picture is on par with a hurricane descending on a House of Cards—the results are chaos and absolute destruction; the structure falls apart.

The Verdict

Guilty of fobbing off migraine-inducing melodrama. Worse, watching House of Cards ultimately results in boredom, which is really the only cardinal sin any film can commit.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 70
Audio: 60
Extras: 10
Acting: 40
Story: 30
Judgment: 43

Perp Profile

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• None
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Bad
• Drama
• Independent

Distinguishing Marks

• Trailers


• IMDb

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