The “D” in “House of D” could stand for a great many things.
It could stand for Duchovny, as in David, who makes his feature-film directing and writing debut, appears in bookending segments and generally smothers the movie in voiceovers that strain desperately for nostalgic poignancy.
(Example: “My story starts where every man’s story starts — with mom,” he says, playing an American artist in Paris flashing back to his childhood. Here’s another: “She was lost without my father, but sometimes I could find her ... and sometimes she didn’t want to be found.”)
It also could stand for didactic, derivative, directorially self-indulgent (sorry, that one’s kind of a reach, but it’s true) and just plain dull.
All those years of co-starring as Fox Mulder on “The X-Files” apparently did nothing to teach Duchovny about creative characters or inventive story lines. He gives us a well-worn coming-of-age story (set in 1973 in New York’s Greenwich Village, where Duchovny grew up) populated by clichéd types.
Robin Williams functions as the magical simpleton, a mentally retarded school janitor named Pappas (which is painful to watch) who’s best friends with our young hero, Tommy Warshaw. Téa Leoni (Duchovny’s real-life wife) gets little to do besides chain-smoke and cry as Tommy’s grieving, widowed mother. And Erykah Badu plays a prisoner in the Women’s House of Detention — the real D behind the film’s title — who guides Tommy through the perils of being 13 by shouting advice to him through a barred window.
While Badu’s presence seems like a total contrivance — she’s trapped in a cell, having conversations with Tommy (Anton Yelchin) whom she spies on the sidewalk below with the help of a shard of mirror — Duchovny has said these sorts of exchanges actually took place. At least the R&B singer perks things up with her unpredictable delivery and untamed ’fro, and her scenes with Yelchin, the poised young actor who previously appeared in “Hearts in Atlantis,” are the film’s only compelling parts.
The rest consists of a series of forced, whimsical moments. Tommy and his classmates make their French teacher say things that sound naughty in heavily accented English. Tommy and Pappas deliver meat for the butcher to senile old ladies and oversexed housewives. Dogs repeatedly pee on their delivery bike, a gag which isn’t particularly funny the first time.
Pappas himself is all over the place. Sometimes he’ll steal something because he doesn’t seem to know right from wrong. Sometimes he’ll blurt out some totally inappropriate comment about the size of his manhood. And sometimes he comes up with nuggets of wisdom like, “I know what I know and I know what I don’t know.”
Here’s something Duchovny ought to know: Despite the earnestness of his first filmmaking effort, he should probably stick to his day job.