House-builder Lou Manfredini doesn’t like to waste materials-or words.
As the straight-shooting host of Chicago’s long-running Mr. Fix-It radio show-finally enjoying national syndication after a seven-year run on WGN-AM in Chicago-Manfredini, renowned construction expert and master of household tools, has earned a reputation as a knowledgeable guy who speaks his mind and gets right to the point. For example: having finally caught up to the hit Jody Foster thriller Panic Room — about a freshly-divorced mom (Foster) trapped in her new home’s self-contained, steel reinforced “panic room,” as sledge-hammering burglars try desperately to get to the safe that’s hidden in there with her-Manfredini does not squander any time with pleasant post-film chit-chat.
“Panic Room,” he happily pronounces, “was the worst movie I’ve ever seen in my life!” He’s laughing as he says it, but I suspect he means every word. “Oh, I hated it,” he insists. “Jody Foster, of course. is always a delight to watch. I’d like to meet her some day. But the movie drove me crazy. Remember when they were first breaking into the wall? That wall was drywall-not plaster. There’s no way an old building like that would have had drywall in it. It would have been plaster. I notice things like that. But hey, at least the popcorn was good.”
Hmmmm. Myself, I liked Panic Room, and I tell him so. But then, I don’t know anything about drywall.
Manfredini is crisscrossing the country this week, promoting his nifty new book, Mr. Fix-It Introduces You to Your House (Ballantine, 2002, $23.95), a room-by-room guide to how a modern house functions. While out on the road, Manfredini-a proud father of four school-age kids-pretty much jumped at the chance to see a film that doesn’t revolve around talking animals. That Panic Room is, in part, a movie about home security construction, was just gravy on the meatloaf.
Speaking of food.
“Some food would have been good in that panic room,” Manfredini states. “Think about it. They had everything else in there. They had fire blankets and shaving kits. So obviously, the mind set behind the panic room is that I could lock myself in there for X amount of days. So how about a Snickers bar? How about a bag of chips? Maybe a Pepsi. Would that be so bad? Here’s my advice for those out there who are going to be building panic rooms because of this movie-a little food goes a long way.”
“Supposedly,” I interject, “in the few weeks since this movie has come out, there has been a sharp increase in requests for these kinds of safe rooms.”
“Well, when it comes to your home, and wanting it to be safe, some people go a little overboard,” Manfredini replies. “If anything, this movie proves the adage about safety and security in the home: ‘If someone really wants to get in, they can get in.’ There are ways to breach any type of security system, if someone wants to badly enough.”
I resist the sudden urge to call home and make sure my wife and kids are safe; instead, I pose a question that ought to be right up Mr. Fix-it’s alley.
“The bad guys have bags of tools,” I state, “but they seem to have no clue how to use them. What advice could you give that could help these guys get into the panic room?”
“Okay, here’s the thing,” he replies. “In their defense, they didn’t think anybody had occupied the house yet, so the panic room was supposed to be unlocked. But there’s Jody and her kid, they’re in the room, the door is made of steel, and they won’t come out. So if I were their leader, I’d have said, ‘Hey, I’ll be right back.’ I’d have gone to my apartment and gotten a torch, and just cut the door open with the torch. It would have been done in about, I don’t know, ten minutes. Fifteen at the most. Instead, they spend the whole movie whacking at it with a sledgehammer.”
“Maybe they should’ve read your book first,” I chime in.
“At least,” he agrees. “And here’s another thing. Another little flaw in the movie. Remember the propane tank the burglars use? When they’re trying to pump gas into the panic room? It had a quick-connect fitting on the end of it, which means that they couldn’t have put that garden hose on it and gotten any gas out of it. It had to have had a male-female connection, one that pierces a ball inside, like an air hose at a gas station.”
“You’re really trying to ruin this movie for me, aren’t you?” I reply.
“Hey, don’t mess with Mr. Fix-It when it comes to truth in construction supplies,” Manfredini laughs. “I don’t even want to hear about it.”
“I’m afraid to ask, but is there anything else that bugged you?” I query.
“Yeah. Plenty,” he says. “When the guy is standing there trying to break through the ceiling, with that same sledgehammer, he never has a speck of dust on him. Right? I’ve knocked down more plaster ceilings than I can count, and I’m telling you, you look like Casper the Ghost when you’re done, but this guy was clean as a whistle.”
“Maybe he’s neater than you are,” I suggest.
“Not likely,” Manfredini retorts with a chuckle. “They’d have been coughing and gasping. There was only a little sprinkle of plaster on the floor. It would have been everywhere. I really can’t believe you liked this.”
Before I have a chance to defend myself, Manfredini continues.
“And here’s another thing,” he says. “In this movie, Jody Foster has just been dumped by her husband. How is that possible? Look at how good she looks. What is she, 40 years-old? She looks fantastic! How could he leave her? What a dumb movie.”
“You might like her next one,” I say, somewhat changing the subject. “It’s about a circus. I’m pretty sure there’s no drywall in it.”
“Well I’m sure I have no chance of being in it now that I’ve said I don’t like Panic Room,” Manfredini says.
“I don’t know. You did say you like her-and that she looks great for a 40-year-old woman.”
“I didn’t say that!” he exclaims. “You’re misquoting me. I said, ‘Hey she looks fantastic! By the way, how old is she?’ That’s what I said. And may I add that she’s also a fine actress and an excellent director. If she ever wants to do a re-make of Little Man Tate, I’d be happy to play the bald, fat guy.”
“You’re not bald,” I remark.
“Yeah, but someday I will be,” Manfredini laughs. “By the time Jody Foster casts me in a movie, I’ll definitely be bald. And by the way, I noticed you didn’t say I wasn’t fat. What’s with that?”
Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to the movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation. This is not a review; rather, it’s a freewheeling, tangential discussion of art, alternative ideas, and popular culture.
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Posted on April 19, 2002 in Features by David Templeton
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