- The janitor who befriends 13-year-old Tommy keeps slipping into Robin Williams impressions.
Agent Fox Mulder, the coolly instinctual sleuth of The X-Files, got pretty good at unraveling paranormal mysteries. If only the actor who played him were as adept at solving the riddle of his movie career. David Duchovny's new vanity project, House of D, is the tortured tale of a 13-year-old boy facing tough choices, family tragedy, and raging hormones. In the telling, Duchovny commits almost every crime the coming-of-age genre is prone to. The whole thing is undeniably well meant, and it tries very hard to be sensitive and touching -- hey, it's even got Robin Williams in the role of a retarded janitor (who at moments bears a striking resemblance to Robin Williams, standup comic -- all agility and cleverness and showy trick voices) -- but its possibilities are quickly swamped by fake charm, precious melancholy, and some preposterous turns of plot.
Duchovny wrote House of D, directed it, and plays the hero in his hiply bearded adult form, so there's no use trying to spread the blame: This is D.D.'s stinker, and his alone.
Proceed at your peril. When first we behold the protagonist, Tom Warshaw, he's a successful American in Paris. When he decides to reveal his secret past to his spouse, we are transported back to Greenwich Village in 1973, where his younger self, Tommy (played by a handsome but school-play-level actor named Anton Yelchin), is about to experience the pivotal year of his life.
No summary can be too short. Tommy's father is dead. His distraught mother (Téa Leoni, aka Mrs. David Duchovny) is strung out on barbiturates. He attends a strict parochial school, encased in blazer and necktie. He's precocious. He's plucky. He's lonely. For friendship, he turns to Pappas (Williams), the good-hearted janitor. For guidance, he winds up listening to a streetwise muse called Lady Bernadette (Erykah Badu), who happens to be an inmate at the old Women's House of Detention (thus the title) at Sixth Avenue and Tenth Street. Tommy can't see her at all. Through the bars of her cell high above the street, she dispenses all manner of wisdom about love, friendship, family dynamics, personal integrity, and dance techniques.
This "Lady" character is not without legitimacy. I used to live in Tommy's old neighborhood myself, and I remember the sharp, often hilarious exchanges between the House of D inmates and the liberated citizens below. No one, however, taught an entire philosophy course.
As for Tommy, let's not talk here about puppy love or misunderstood theft or even death -- all of which become entangled in Duchovny's turgid screenplay. Instead, let's jump-cut to the moment when our pint-sized hero, full of Lady Bernadette's sage advice, boards a jet for Paris, all by himself, presumably never to return. Remember now, he's 13. The fact that this kid cannot possibly have a passport has apparently not occurred to Duchovny, and that's not the only misapprehension. Even fairy tales demand dramatic logic. This one ain't got none, just an inflated sense of its power to move us.
House of D. D is for Dreadful. For Dud. For Duchovny.