Film Review: We the Party

Initially promising teen comedy-drama, featuring African-American kids not in the ghetto for once, soon undermines itself in a welter of clichés and empty gloss.

At Baldwin Hills High School, Hendrix Sutton (Mandela Van Peebles) is a definite disappointment to his dad (Mario Van Peebles), who also teaches there. He desperately needs tutoring, which he receives from lovely classmate Cheyenne (Simone Battle), who he is dying to ask to the senior prom. He also runs with a crew who have all placed bets on—surprise!—who will lose their virginity first before that big night. Actually, Hendrix is most bent on buying a car, which he plans to do with the bucks he earns from the weekend dance parties he throws.

Do we need more movie clichés here? Okay, how about that aforementioned crew, incredulously made up of such differing types as an arrogant rich prince (Patrick Cage II), a mouthy little Italian named Quicktime (Moises Arias), skater boy Que (Ryan Vigil) and a nerd named—yes—Obama (Makaylo Van Peebles). There’s also a fat girl who discovers her inner Grace Kelly, and a menacing group of thugs who steal Hendrix’s hard-earned cash, headed by none other than Snoop Dogg (in one more role that won’t win him the approval of either Bill Cosby or Sidney Poitier). Hendrix comes from a broken home, but Mom is never too far away, as she also teaches at the same school (and looks more like a model).

Mario Van Peebles, who also wrote and directed this veritable orgy of nepotism (there are five Van Peebles alone listed in the cast), doesn’t seem to have a fresh idea in his head. Although goodhearted and spirited, We the Party is vapid in the extreme. Van Peebles’ direction often goes awry, veering nonsensically into music-video tropes like split-screens which add a further layer of unnecessary gloss to the already synthetic proceedings. It’s an MTV world away from daddy Melvin Van Peebles’ gritty, seminal 1971 Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.

The acting ranges from serviceable to inept, with no one really able to break through and exhibit anything like true charisma, despite strenuous efforts to be 2012 relevant via the presence of various techno gadgets, the senior prom theme of going green, and intensely staged rap battles. When the kids are seen busily doing their class project, which consists of searching out and interviewing some extremely bogus homeless people for their very “I feel your pain” benign liberal of a teacher, you may find yourself looking for the nearest exit sign.