Film review: Housesitter

Published: Wednesday, June 17 1992 12:00 a.m. MDT

Like director Frank Oz's other pictures — "Little Shop of Horrors," "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and "What About Bob?" — "Housesitter" is a one-joke movie that runs out of steam before reaching its conclusion.

But also like Oz's other movies, it's funny enough to get away with it.

`'Housesitter" is something of a comic "Fatal Attraction," with Goldie Hawn playing a compulsive liar who disrupts Steve Martin's stable, orderly life, driving him crazy in the process.

Martin plays a Boston architect who has put all of his money into a house he built himself in a small New England berg, Dobbs Mill, which is also his hometown. He hopes to use the house to woo his longtime girlfriend Dana Delany, proposing to her in the film's first scene. She turns him down, of course, and a despondent Martin returns to the city, a broken man.

After a party in a restaurant, Martin picks up perky waitress Hawn and spends the night with her, leaving before she awakens the next morning. But she remembers his story about the house he built in Dobbs Mill and hops a bus to go see it.

Once there, Hawn proceeds to move in, meeting and winning over all of Martin's friends and neighbors — including his parents. She tells them she's Martin's new wife.

When Martin returns, he is naturally disconcerted. But he strikes a bargain with her — Hawn can stay, pretending to be his wife, if she will make it look like the marriage is failing. Martin believes this will win Delany's sympathy and bring her back to him.

Convoluted? You bet. And in lesser hands, this featherweight farcical premise, a first big-screen effort from playwright Mark Stein, could really fall flat. But director Oz, a former Muppeteer, knows his comic stuff, and he's assembled a winning cast. The stars are excellent. Martin and Hawn develop some genuine comic chemistry together, and Delany (of TV's "China Beach") is also quite good, subtly sexy and slightly wicked. The supporting players are also notable, especially Julie Harris and Donald Moffat as Martin's parents.

There are many very funny moments that take advantage of Martin's physical comic abilities, and this picture gives Hawn a better showcase than she's had in some years.

This is a throwback to the screwball comedies of the '30s and '40s, of course, and therefore the film lacks explanations that might give it some level of depth. Just as Bill Murray's character psychological disease in "What About Bob?" was never adequately diagnosed or dealt with, explaining Hawn's propensity for stretching the truth is also sidestepped. But taken on its own terms, and given Martin and Hawn's winning performances, it's often very funny.

"Housesitter" is adult material, rated PG for profanity, vulgarity, sex and partial nudity.