"Houseguest," a rowdy fish-out-of-water comedy, is as good-natured as its big, beefy star, comedian Sinbad. His Kevin Franklin is a Pittsburgh dreamer steeped in get-rich-quick schemes but now dangerously in debt to a local Mafioso. Deciding to make a run for it, he finds salvation when, at the airport, he's mistaken for a childhood friend by Phil Hartman's Gary Young, an Ivy League lawyer who lives in the lush suburb of Sewickley and has come to pick up his old acquaintance.
Gary hasn't seen his summer camp pal Derek Bond for 25 years, and Kevin is as in the dark about the reason for the reunion as we are. Writers Michael J. Di Gaetano and Lawrence Gay amusingly string Kevin and us along as to what Derek's profession is; indeed, Kevin, posing as Derek, manages to get through a career-day speech at a local school--the reason for the visit--before finally learning that the man he is pretending to be is an eminent dentist.
All of a sudden, then, an on-the-lam inner-city black man finds himself a house guest in an upper-middle-class suburban white household. Gary, his wife Emily (Kim Greist) and their children Jason (Chauncey Leopardi), Sarah (Talia Seider) and Brooke (Kim Murphy) live in a turn-of-the-century Colonial Revival mansion.
Directed in lively fashion by Randall Miller, "Houseguest" manages some deft social satire of WASP mores, but the emphasis is on broad comedy. The film has such vitality that it could easily have set its sights higher; a couple of credibility-defying car chases and other examples of reckless driving could have been jettisoned to spend more time on Kevin's developing relationships with his hosts. (The film also carries product placement to new heights--or depths, depending on your point of view.)
Kevin is so warm, expansive and natural that the uptight Young family takes to him quickly. He gives the kids the time they so desperately need from their self-absorbed workaholic parents. In turn, he discovers for the first time that he has something to offer to others that is of value. However, such self-discovery tends to take a back seat to the bumbling pursuit of Kevin by the Mafioso's thugs (Paul Ben-Victor, Tony Longo).
Even so, Miller gets fresh portrayals from a fine cast that includes Stan Shaw as Kevin's baffled best pal and Jeffrey Jones as Gary's neighbor, a \o7 real\f7 dentist understandably a tad suspicious of Derek. Although "Houseguest" is tailored to show off the engaging Sinbad, a man of much wit and presence, Hartman makes Gary an actually quite likable square. Greist's quizzical Emily, coolly unapologetic about steeping herself in her expanding yogurt parlor empire, is especially distinctive. As for the real Derek Bond, he turns out to be an insufferable stuffed shirt, played delightfully by Ron Glass.
\o7 * MPAA rating: PG, for language, double-entendre and some comic violence. Times guidelines: It is suitable for all ages.\f7
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Sinbad Kevin: Franklin Phil Hartman: Gary Young Jeffrey Jones: Ron Timmerman Kim Greist: Emily Young A Buena Vista release of a Hollywood Pictures presentation in association with Caravan Pictures. Director Randall Miller. Producers Joe Roth, Roger Birnbaum. Executive producer Dennis Bishop. Screenplay Michael J. Di Gaetano, Lawrence Gay. Cinematographer Jerzy Zielinski. Editor Eric Sears. Costumes Jyl Moder. Music John Debney. Production designer Paul Peters. Art director Gary Kosko. Set decorator Amy Wells. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes.
\o7 * In general release throughout Southern California. \f7