Houseguest – The Mediocrity Of Meh And Other Comedies

My fondest memories of movie watching were at the Cinemark Cinema 6 at the Bosque River Centre in Stephenville, TX. I will refer to this place often and with reverence. I will no longer refer to it in such impersonal terms as the Cinemark Cinema 6. From this point on, it shall be known as… The Cinemark. The dramatic pause between those two words is inferred.

The Cinemark Cinema 6 in Stephenville, TX where writer Danny Macchietto enjoyed many of his fondest movie watching experiences.

The Cinemark shared a wall with a clothing department store. I worked at this store as a stock boy in the back. After I clocked out from a shift, I’d often exit through the entrance that immediately put me 20 feet away from a ticket counter at… The Cinemark.

It was at The Cinemark that I watched every movie I possibly could. From the Spring of 1994 when I attended high school to May of 2000 when I graduated college. With some exceptions, no film was off limits. If I didn’t see it, it was only because I could not find the time.

This means that I voluntarily suffered my way through many a bad film like: Jade, Milk Money, Gordy and Exit to Eden. If somehow this post compels a great number of you to seek any of these out, I will suggest to my editor that we create a 1-800 number for a bad movie support center.

The benefit of seeing so many poorly made films was that I appreciated it all the more when I found something good (While You Were Sleeping, Maverick) or truly great (Speed, Little Women, Pulp Fiction). Then there were the in-betweeners. These were the films that could cause two movie-lovers to engage in a debate of Siskel & Ebert proportions. Think Timecop with Jean-Claude Van Damme, I Love Trouble with Nick Nolte and Julia Roberts, The Conspiracy Theory with Julia Roberts and Mel Gibson. When leaving the theater, it was truly a flip of the coin as to what side of good or bad one might take.

I Love Trouble, a 1994 comedy starring Julia Roberts and Nick Nolte is the kind of film that critic Danny Macchietto calls an “in-betweener”.

In the winter and spring of 1995 there were a handful of comedies that fell into this limbo. Some of them led by popular comedians of the time, a couple of them by Saturday Night Live (SNL) all-stars that would later develop a cult following, and all of them unloved by critics.

Jury Duty stars stand-up comedian Pauly Shore. Shore’s onscreen persona consisted of him playing his alter ego “The Weasel”. Everything you need to know about that character you will find in his popular catchphrase, “Hey, BU-DDY.” He had a generous run of good luck over a four-year span as a leading man of mainstream comedies. No film rated higher than 15% on the Rotten Tomato-meter. Jury Duty had the distinct honor of earning a zero percent aggregate. It deserves no more writing space other than this link to the movie’s trailer should you choose to see it for yourself.

The official theatrical trailer for the 1995 Pauly Shore movie Jury Duty.

The rest of the lot is good enough that were you to declare it one of your favorite comedies of all time, you would still get invited to dinner parties. Mind you, these dinner parties won’t be serving you a grilled sirloin, but there might be a fresh bag of Cheetos to munch on while you drink a cold bottle of Rolling Rock. I will now measure my taste for these films by recommending a snack and a beverage it would best accompany.

Major Payne (33% Rotten) stars Damon Wayans of television’s In Living Colour fame. This film is Wayans’ 90-minute comic riff on Apocalypse Now and military training films like Full Metal Jacket. His title character is unable to dial down his tough exterior and views a private school for young boys with special needs as a training ground for future killing machines. To give you an idea of the tightrope in tone he must balance, watch this oddly sweet scene as Major Payne attempts to tell a child a bedtime story – Major Payne (1995) – The Little Engine That Could Scene. Snack: Corn Nuts. Beverage: Orange Juice.

Billy Madison (42% Rotten) was SNL alumni member Adam Sandler’s first bid as a comedy film all-star. I watched many of his films hoping that I would understand his broad appeal to many of my friends. His appeal was lost on me until he finally dipped his toe in dramatic waters. The only exception being Happy Gilmore, because no movie that features Bob Barker in a fist fight can be all bad. Here is one of the few scenes that had me chuckling – Billy Madison (1995) – Billy Pees His Pants Scene. Snack: Mother’s Iced Oatmeal Cookies. Beverage: Mountain Dew

Chris Farley and David Spade, two other SNL alums, starred in Tommy Boy (42% Rotten), their first buddy picture together. Like Sandler, it too was Farley’s debut as a comic leading man. I was never a devoted fan of a single one of his pictures, but I was fascinated by his boundless energy and fearless nature. This time, I understood the appeal. He was taken from this earth far too soon. Take 45 seconds of your time and click – Tommy Boy (1995) – I’m A Maniac Scene. Snack: Tums. Beverage: Mugg’s Root Beer.

And that brings us to my own most secret of secret comedy shame: Houseguest with Sinbad! Sinbad was a comedian whose standup was as clean and family friendly as you could find in the mid-90s. It was only one of two films (the other being First Kid) that he received top billing. He is best known for his role as the coach in the Bill Cosby produced sitcom, A Different World and his own short-lived series, The Sinbad Show.

Houseguest featured 1990’s comedian Sinbad in one of only two films for which he received top billing, the other being 1996’s First Kid.

This is the one film of the lot that has truly been forgotten. It has no cult following like Billy Madison, Major Payne or Tommy Boy, not even the distinction of a zero percent tomato score like Jury Duty. Houseguest boasts a score of 14%, but it did churn a decent profit, making $26 million during its movie release dumping ground known as the month of January.

I know of only one person that has seen Houseguest. I dragged that person with me to the theater just so I could share with him the awesomeness that was Sinbad. Yes, I saw this movie twice on the big screen and even a third time when it was released on home video. I saw in Houseguest what I failed to see in those other films. And like those fans, I would defend it against any sort of petty judgment. To me it was a lustrous stone straight out of the mediocrity of meh.

In preparation for this piece, I watched it for the first time in twenty-five years. There is nothing special or revelatory about the film. I saw nothing that reflected the sense of humor I have today. I can’t even say that I enjoyed it half as much as I did when I originally saw it. Still, it made me laugh.

Houseguest features a rather flimsy and well-worn plot device where a con artist hides from the Mob by hiding in an unusual place (Think Sister Act in the suburbs).

So, here we are. Houseguest.

This movie is stupid. It is so stupid. And I admire it for that.

The story is that of Kevin Franklin (Sinbad), a man with a debt and on the run from the mob. While on the run he assumes the identity of Dr. Derek Bond and inserts himself into the lives of the Young family. The film wastes no time setting this up, taking only 20 minutes of its 2-hour running time. The plot is merely an excuse to let Sinbad’s comedy shenanigans ensue.

Director Randall Miller keeps things moving as quick and kinetic as possible. He gets as much mileage as he can out of a paper-thin concept and that is part of the movie’s charm. Almost everything that happens in this movie is shown with the utmost of glee and as if the filmmakers believed it had never been done before.

We see so many clichés in this film that it becomes a running joke for how often it likes to double-down, sometimes triple-down, on itself. We are treated to roughly five scenes of mad-cap driving insanity. Random celebrity names are called out on several occasions to create a diversion, “Denzel!” A couple of scenes are fast-forwarded in chipmunk time. The McDonald’s Big Mac makes no more than four cameo appearances and includes a ceremonious visit to the golden arches!

Houseguest also co-stars beloved ex-SNL comedian Phil Hartman as well as the criminally under utilized Kim Greist best known for her work on Manhunter and Throw Momma From The Train.

This is the kind of movie that attempts to distinguish the difference between a movie dance party and a dance break in a movie. There’s a clothes montage. A hamster is mistaken for a rat. Foreign languages are pretended to be known. There is a scene where too much Novocain is applied. A group of nuns make an appearance and a wine tasting critic is aroused by the smell of his own nose.

And most of it worked for me. Sinbad has an effortless, genial charm, never condescending to the material. He is supported by the most beloved of all SNL veterans, the late Phil Hartman. The editing ratchets up the comedic tension by being quicker and snappier than a Michael Bay production. I appreciated that the cinematographer took the time to show off with his sweeping camera moves.

I tried to find a film snippet to accompany this post, but little could be found online and the few scenes discovered were of poor quality. No trailer, either. Even Jury Duty got a trailer. Sometimes hidden treasures get no respect.

Snack: lettuce. Beverage: milk.

⭐ For more information on where to Buy, Rent, or Stream Houseguest, click here for the Houseguest JustWatch page.

Movie clip of the “Career Day Scene” from the 1995 film Houseguest starring Sinbad, Phil Hartman and Kim Greist.

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