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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Movie Penguin Monday presents Movies That Made The Man: #1. Houseguest (1995)

I turned 35-years-old this year, and feel compelled to revisit the films of my youth.  You could call it a pre-midlife midlife crisis.  I'm not in the market for hair plugs or a flashy sports car yet, but I am prepared to figure out whether or not The Goonies is actually good.  I've been compiling an ever-growing list of titles for the past few months, and I think I'm finally ready to sit down with some "old friends"--by which I mean movies I liked when I was a younger man, and not the gang from Sherwood Retirement Village I play dominoes with the third Sunday night of every month--and find out why I liked what I liked, and decide if I still enjoy what I liked because what I liked is genuinely likable or if I simply like said liked things because I have fond memories of being a young man at the start of his cinema education.  So, every once in awhile, I'll interrupt our regularly scheduled Movie Penguin Monday program to revisit an old favorite, in a little segment I'm going to call Movies That Made The Man, the "man," of course, being myself, a man.

I'm starting with 1995's Houseguest because for years I've been singing it's comedic praises.  To hear me talk about Houseguest, you'd think it was right up there with the best of the Marx Brothers or the early films of Steve Martin.  You'd probably gawk at me with idiot shock as I explained the brilliance of baggy-panted comedy supernova Sinbad's performance or recounted set piece after hilarious set piece.  You may mistakenly believe that I was drunk on beers and/or high on marijuana when I first saw Houseguest, but you'd be wrong.  First of all, I was 16 in 1995, and, therefore, far below the legal drinking age.  Second, I've never smoked anything stronger than a tobacco cigarette, so, no, I was not high.  I was, however, a lover of both comedy and film, and for some reason, in 1995, Houseguest was the pinnacle of both for me.

It was a late night in November of last year during a review of premium movie channel schedules--we'd been afforded three free months of HBO and Cinemax for sticking with our horrible, horrible cable provider--that I discovered that Houseguest would be playing at 6 AM on something called Cinemax: Whatevs (There are, like, 52 Cinemax channels, most of which show softcore porn between the hours of 11:30 PM and 3:00 AM).  Obviously, I set the DVR to record it, as Houseguest, like the most beautiful of butterflies, is a difficult thing to pin down.  Then, after about 4 months or so, during a late night review of DVR recordings I was mostly unimpressed by, I saw it waiting there, like a golden goose pregnant with a whole mess of golden eggs.  "Oh, yeah.  Houseguest.  Nothing better to watch."  And with that, I pressed play, vigorously scratched my balls, and reclined on the couch for a viewing of what I remembered to be one of the funniest movies in the history of celluloid.  Imagine my surprise when about halfway through I realized I was watching a two hour commercial for McDonald's.  
And "Big Mac" as Himself

There isn't a dance party set in a McDonald's restaurant, a la Mac and Me, but there may as well be.  Sinbad is rarely without a greasy McDonald's sack clutched in his fist.  There is also a fairly lengthy scene set in a McDonald's in which Sinbad makes the most ridiculous order ever taken.  Supersize Me-era Morgan Spurlock would be appalled.

Houseguest is also extremely manic.  I guess that's what happens when your movie is fueled by McDonald's and Coca-Cola.  Sinbad is a fairly manic performer anyway, and the character he plays is a fast-talker.  But there are so many scenes that have been sped up to such a ridiculous pace, I found myself double-checking to make sure I hadn't rolled over or dropped one of the multiple Quarter Pounders with Cheese I was eating onto the TV remote.

Houseguest is also stupid.  Really, really stupid.
Here's a quick plot synopsis for the few of you who have never seen or heard of Houseguest, though there can't be many of you as Houseguest is super awesome (I know, I know, I already called it stupid, just bear with me): Kevin Franklin (Sinbad), a former poor child orphan, now a poor, grown, technically still orphaned man, who somehow has plenty of money to finance multiple get-rich-quick schemes and eat McDonald's all day long, gets in trouble with the Mafia (the funny, Hollywood-comedy kind), and decides to leave town until the pressure is off.  Franklin ends up posing as the all-growns-up childhood chum of Gary Young (Phil Hartman, who, as you would expect, is a joy to watch in every single scene he's in), at whose house he spends the weekend.  Wackiness ensues to the point of full wackiness saturation, Franklin solves exactly one problem each for every member of the family, and a small child steals a gun from a mobster at one point. 
Awww.  Pwecious.

Franklin is exposed as a fraud, but since the Youngs have already fallen in love with him, they assist him in avoiding being murdered by the mob.  Franklin writes a book about how to be a good houseguest or something, gets rich (because that's all that matters) and remains friends with the Youngs.  I love a batshit insane story with a crazy coo-coo nutcakes ending.  What the hell did I just watch???

What did I think was so funny about Houseguest when I was 16?  It must have been the one-two punch of Sinbad and Phil Hartman, two men I was quite fond of at the time.  But other than the film's co-leads giving me the warm fuzzies, what exactly was there to like about this overlong ode to McDonald's?  Rewatching Houseguest, I genuinely laughed exactly once, but since the laugh-worthy joke was delivered by convicted child pornography fan Jeffrey Jones, it doesn't count.  I guess it was just my fond memories of A Different World, Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer sketches and McDonald's cheeseburgers then.  That, unfortunately, is not enough.

But, alas, Houseguest, I can't quit you!  I still have affection for this movie 19 years later (Holy crap, I'm old!).  It isn't good.  If you haven't seen it, there is nothing here to recommend, aside from the fact that it's one of the few films Phil Hartman made before his tragic death three years later.  The film is so manic, it gave me several panic attacks throughout, and that's saying a lot as I am currently medicated for an anxiety disorder.

I don't know where I am with Houseguest.  Before this rewatch, I informed my wife that she was not to remove Houseguest from the family DVR unit until after my death, though I later amended this, instructing her to never remove Houseguest from the DVR forever and always, swearing that I would return as a ghost to haunt her, Q, and any future offspring Q might bring into being.  "That's the ghost of Pop Pop," my great-great grandchildren will say between Holo-Tennis matches on the Fun Deck of their undersea Home-Sphere.  "He told Gram-Gram not to erase Houseguest from the DVR--whatever that was--and she did it anyway.  Now he haunts us for all eternity.  How his ghost found our undersea domed dwelling, we'll never know, but he's here now and we're going to have to live with it."  But now I don't know.  If she decides to erase Houseguest once the mourning period ends, I think my ghost can rest easy.

I promise I won't be so flip-floppy on future films in this feature, but with Houseguest I'm afraid I'm not ready to rule it a worthless relic of my moviegoing past.  As far as Houseguest goes, as of right now, I am UNDECIDED.

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