Friday, March 13, 2015

Home Sweet Hell: the “Till Death” Part Can’t Come Soon Enough

If Dr. Phil took a good look at Don Champagne’s marriage, he’d only be able to offer his deepest sympathies. The same would also be true for a reputable marriage counselor. There is no question who is the decision maker in his family—his wife, Mona. Type A does not even begin to describe her. By now Champagne is resigned to her bossing, especially after an infidelity explodes in his face. “Happily” does not necessarily go with “ever after” in Anthony Burns’ Home Sweet Hell (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

Everything Champagne has, he owes to Mona’s ambition and her father’s money, or so she constantly reminds him. Frankly, he is mostly content managing their thriving furniture store, but his home life is something else. Champagne must constantly deal with relentless self-improvement projects and goal statements. Sex is something that must be sparingly scheduled ahead of time, not that it really matters, considering how emasculated he is.

It is hard to judge Champagne too harshly when he allows his hot new employee to seduce him. Unfortunately, Dusty turns out to be too good to be true. Facing blackmail, Champagne confesses to his wife, who always keeps a cool head in a crisis. Despite her understandable disappointment, she is not going to let some saucy adventuress sabotage her happy home. Of course, Champagne is not man enough to permanently fix the problem, but Madame Champagne is a different story.

Casting Katherine Heigl and her lingering bad PR as Mona Champagne was a risky gamble. Unfortunately, rather than earning credit for knowingly mocking her problematic image, her shticky but joyless performance is likely to add fuel to the hate fires. Patrick Wilson does not exactly do himself any favors either as Don Champagne, the cringy doormat.

It is also rather sad watching Jim Belushi stagger through the film as Champagne’s shlubby assistant, Les. The underrated Belushi brother can be an effective everyman with an attitude, but it has been a while since his best work in The Principal, Wild Palms, and Taking Care of Business. (It has also been a while since Heigl’s best role as Steven Seagal’s obnoxious niece in Under Siege 2). Bizarrely, Jordana Brewster takes the honors in HSH, with her comparatively nuanced performance as Dusty—honest, she does.

Essentially, HSH is a black comedy without the black humor. It never embraces the gore or mayhem required by midnight movie connoisseurs while the profoundly unappealing one-note characters will give mainstream audiences the stiff arm. Not recommended, Home Sweet Hell opens today (3/13) in New York, at the AMC Empire.