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Life as a House: Platinum Series

Life as a House is the kind of movie critics tend to hate and soft-hearted moviegoers tend to love. And although it is emotionally manipulative and dangerously schmaltzy in spots, when it's not veering into cheesiness, this well-acted tale of redemption has some affecting scenes and moments of genuine drama. (In other words, Pay It Forward this ain't.) Kevin Kline stars as George Monroe, a scruffy smart-mouth who lives in a shack at the end of a cul-de-sac lined by beautiful houses. George builds architectural models for a living — a solitary occupation if there ever was one — and is alienated from just about everyone around him: his co-workers, his neighbors, his beautiful ex-wife Robin (Kristin Scott Thomas), and, most significantly, his 16-year-old son, Sam (Anakin Sky... er, Hayden Christensen), a pierced, dyed, sulky kid who seems bent on self-destruction. When, in the course of one truly terrible bad day, George is not only fired but discovers he has cancer (the inoperable kind, of course), he decides to make his last months mean something — he vows to get through to Sam by enlisting his son to help him tear down his shack and build the perfect house. It's a pretty obvious metaphor, and it's the basis of a pretty predictable plot, but thanks to Christensen's remarkable performance, it works well enough to save the movie from terminal triteness. The young actor adeptly turns Sam, who could have easily been just another troubled, mouthy teen, into a dark, tormented kid who can't accept his parents' love and concern because he doesn't believe he's worthy of it. When he hits bottom (and, boy, does he), you can hear the thud. Kline, meanwhile, pretty much plays Kevin Kline — which is why, even though on the surface George should at least start out as a despicable guy, you can't help but like him. In the supporting cast, Scott Thomas is a little too distant to be believable as a soft-hearted mother, and as Alyssa, George's outspoken 16-year-old next-door neighbor who has an eye on Sam, Jena Malone strays a tad too far into free-spirited vixenhood. The movie's foundation is fairly solid, but in the end it doesn't quite come up to code. However, New Line's Life as a House: Platinum Series is a nice DVD package with all the trimmings. For starters, the anamorphic transfer (2.10:1) makes the shots of the Pacific Ocean sparkle, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio shows off every strike of George's hammer (other options include DTS 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround tracks, as well as English subtitles). A better-than-average feature set offers a commentary by director Irwin Winkler, producer Rob Cowan, and screenwriter Mark Andrus, as well as two featurettes, four deleted scenes (with optional commentary), production notes, cast and crew bios, and the theatrical trailer. Snap-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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