I’m not sure what type of film “The Six Wives of Henry Lefay” was supposed to be, but I guess there’s a comfort in knowing the filmmakers didn’t either. Part madcap comedy, part weepy funeral saga, the picture is a mess, hopelessly failing a colorful cast making an effort to lend the film some personality. It seems director Howard Michael Gould didn’t value the attempt, wasting a few commendable performances on a meaningless feature that doesn’t provide profundity or laughs.
A womanizing rapscallion, Henry Lefay (Tim Allen) has died in Mexico while parasailing. Returning home to deal with the death is daughter Barbara (Elisha Cuthbert), who’s confronted with uneasy feelings about a man she never respected. Unfortunately, there’s little time to grieve, with Henry’s cabal of ex-wives (including Andie MacDowell, Jenna Elfman, Paz Vega, and Lindsay Sloane) ready to make funeral plans for their deceased lover, with his recent mistress (Jenna Dewan) waiting in the wings. Flustered by the loving support of her own boyfriend, Barbara is ill-prepared to carry out the wishes of these headstrong women, leaving the weekend one long routine of arguments, surprises, and resentment for a man nobody really knew.
A meat cleaver was applied during the editing process of “Six Wives,” and I wish I understood why. At 90 minutes, the film is a meaningless experience teeming with insignificant characters and faulty emotional wiring, with hints scattered here and there that something more resonate was planned for the picture in script form. What’s left is a highlight reel of Lifetime movie moments, with characters wandering in and out of the script, communicating a deep-seated feeling for a repulsive lothario. And a thinly developed lothario at that. Henry Lefay is outlined through a series of grubby ex-wives, an aborted blues career, a home electronics empire, and a parade of young ladies he can’t help but marry, creating a baffling black hole pull around this unpleasant man.
Henry Lefay is a bastard, but so is everyone else in Gould’s script, which corrals a series of whimpering women to grieve for a man they never liked. Without evidence of Henry’s appeal, a few weepy montages and a routine of characters fighting over his remains makes little sense, but that doesn’t stop Gould. He believes Henry is worth the delicate approach, pulling the fangs out of this potential farce to strum an acoustic guitar and pass around a box of tissues. The leaps between comedy and drama are enormous, shredding the film’s pace every time Gould switches gears, confusing the film to a disheartening degree. Again, Henry is just a loathsome shadow here, cheating on everyone he loves, while creating a legacy as an insensitive T.V. pitchman. Watching his loved ones grieve should be a sick joke. Gould takes it all too seriously, fearful that poison will alienate the viewer.
It’s bizarre to find so many famous faces in the picture. Not A-listers all the way, but an ensemble of familiar actors to help brighten up the movie. S. Epatha Merkerson appears as Henry’s first wife, Edward Herrmann portrays the frazzled funeral director, and Barbara Barrie clowns around as Henry’s elderly mother. It’s a warm cast, if not exactly fleshed out with champions. Still, I’ll take some flickering star power where I can get it, anchored commendably by Cuthbert, who shows remarkable poise as the domestic storm chaser. She possesses some raw talent that deserves a more fulfilling script.
To cheat further, Gould tosses in some third act surprises, including a cancer scare for one of the characters. Yuck. The director also makes a complete ass out of Barbara, sending her on an express train to cheat town for unknown reasons, quickly blowing off the transgression when the climax magically arrives. The picture ends on a revoltingly baffling note, failing to explain the spark that brought the cast and the moneymen (16 producers are credited on the film) to the project in the first place. “The Six Wives of Henry Lefay” concludes as a lump of misplaced thespian energy and obnoxious characters, leaving little reason for anyone to endure it outside of the most ardent of Tim Allen fans.