With "Houseguest," which opened in theaters Friday, the burly comic makes his movie starring debut - and it does not bode well for his cinematic future. Like the housepest of the title, Sinbad's character here is more annoying than amusing and before the film is over you may just wish he'd go away.
Sinbad is Kevin Franklin, a con artist raised in a strict orphanage, who has spent most of his life attempting to make a million with failed get-rich-quick schemes. Now he's $50,000 in debt to the mob, so when a pair of hit men come to collect, he, naturally, heads for the airport.
There, Kevin bumps into Gary Young (Phil Hartman, of "Saturday Night Live"), a straight-arrow yuppie who is waiting for an old friend to fly in - a black friend he hasn't seen in 25 years. So, Sinbad takes advantage of the situation, pretends to be that friend and automatically has a hideout.
What follows is as predictable as last night's sitcom, with Kevin hustling to cover himself while he tries to figure out who he's supposed to be and what that "favor" is he's supposed to perform.
Meanwhile, he moves in with Gary - and his wife and kids - and gradually, one-by-one, each member of this wildly dysfunctional family is helped by Kevin in a matter of days to overcome problems that have been festering for years.
Several other movies come to mind during all of this, ranging from "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" to "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (and, more recently, "Six Degrees of Separation"). But none of the wit or spark that made those films enjoyable is evident here. And certainly there is no serious exploration of the themes that arise (wealth vs. poverty, race relations, friendship, etc.) in the course of the film.
Hartman continues to play superficial, skit-style characters (he seems to specialize in white-bread, milquetoasts). And Jeffrey Jones does a variation on the obnoxious co-worker/neighbor we've seen him play a zillion times (he was much better in "Ed Wood" last year - and does anyone remember him in "Amadeus"?). Stan Shaw, a fine actor ("The Boys in Company C," "Fried Green Tomatoes") who is regularly underused in films, is also here, uncomfortably cast as Kevin's exasperated best friend.
Sinbad tries hard, but neither the overbearing, cliche-ridden script (by TV writers Michael J. Di Gaetano & Lawrence Gay) nor the unimaginative, sappy direction (by Randall Miller, of Kid 'n Play's "Class Act") offer much help.
This is sloppy comedy at its most obnoxious and director Miller tries to cover it up with rapid pacing, as if the use of choppy, MTV-style editing (along with the occasional intrusive music video and a lengthy McDonald's commercial) will cause the audience to forgive (or perhaps forget) that none of this is funny.
Unfortunately, the first new movie of the year is also destined to be remembered as one of the worst.
"Houseguest" is rated PG for violence, profanity and vulgarity, a surprising amount of each, considering this is supposed to be a family comedy. (Sinbad's stand-up acts are much more family oriented.)
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