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Review: Duchovny's 'House' of pain

Weak story wallows in sentimentality

By Paul Clinton
Robin Williams, Zelda Williams and Anton Yelchin in "House of D."
David Duchovny
Erykah Badu
Robin Williams

(CNN) -- David Duchovny claims he wrote the screenplay for "House of D" in only six days. It shows.

The situations that drive the plot -- about an American artist living in Paris who, in an effort to come to terms with his past, describes his youth in New York's Greenwich Village to his Parisian wife and his 13-year-old son -- are completely contrived and totally lacking in any logic whatsoever.

Creative license is one thing, but this story is a car wreck. The movie has the flat tone and feel of a TV soap opera.

And after the overly sentimental first act, the story becomes more and more preposterous -- until its climax, when it spins totally out of control.

"House of D," which marks the feature film writing and directing debut of Duchovny, is somewhat of family affair. Duchovny stars in the movie, as does his real-life wife, Tea Leoni. Robin Williams has a key role, and so does Williams' daughter Zelda.

It's told mainly in flashback. In 1973, Tom Warshaw (Anton Yelchin, who will become Duchovny as an adult) is living in a fairly seedy one-bedroom walkup apartment in the heart of the Village with his widowed mother, played by Leoni. Williams plays the boy's best friend, Pappass, a mentally challenged 41-year-old school janitor with the mind of an 11-year-old boy.

In order to make extra money, the two make meat deliveries for a local butcher. Their days are filled with pick-up baseball games and their joint obsession to save up enough money to buy a new bike.

In the evenings Tom is left to cope with his mother's increasing emotional neediness and her dependency on medication for depression.

Lady and the scamp

Then Tom becomes interested in the opposite sex -- an Upper West Side girl played by Zelda Williams -- and the bond between him and Pappass is threatened.

At this point Tom also begins a relationship with a woman he calls Lady. She's imprisoned in the Greenwich Village Women's House of Detention, the "House of D." Lady, played by the recording artist Erykah Badu, becomes the only stabilizing force in Tom's life.

David Duchovny wrote, directed and stars in "House of D."

He can't see her -- she's behind bars on an upper floor -- but he can hear her and she begins to give him advice on how to cope with the events that are overtaking his life. This character -- and Badu's performance -- is the best thing in the film.

Yelchin manages to get his character off to a good start, but as the script becomes more and more confused and the plot verves off into the completely impossible, it's surprising he can keep a straight face.

Williams once again does his warm and fuzzy act, a tiresome shtick that screams "love me, love me." His daughter fares better; she turns in a very believable performance, given the lackluster script she's been handed.

The best thing about this film is the scenic design and the locations in Greenwich Village. Actual apartments and other real locations were used much of the time. But the stark reality of the sets only makes the script more implausible.

You know it's bad news when the story is so awful, you start to focus on the furniture and the wall colors. Too bad interior design wasn't the point of "House of D."

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