Frank Scheck

Teen dramedy focuses on Facebook, fitting-in and standing out in Mario Van Peebles’ film starring five of his children.

Eat your hearts out, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith.

For his latest directorial effort, Mario Van Peebleshas cast five, count ‘em, five of his children in parts both large and small. For good measure, father Melvin also makes a brief appearance, and Mario plays a significant role as well. Talk about a family enterprise!

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Arriving more than twenty years after Van Peebles’ directorial debut New Jack City, We the Party is concerned not with gangster but rather youth culture. In its portrait of multi-ethnic high school students dealing with such issues as losing their virginity or trying to convince their parents to buy them a car, it attempts to bring an up-to-the-minute spin on classic teen coming-of-age themes.

The central character is Hendrix (Mandela Van Peebles), one of five friends at a Los Angeles high school. Although excellent at throwing parties, the sixteen-year-old is otherwise an underachiever, which is rather awkward since his mother (Salli Richardson-Whitfield) is the school principal and his father (Mario Van Peebles) is the sort of teacher who–despite delivering such bromides as “minimum effort now means minimum wage later—still manages to be hipper than most of his students.

The episodic plotline mainly revolves around a bet among the group as to which of them will first lose his virginity before the upcoming prom. Hendrix sets his sights on the beautiful, straight-arrow Cheyenne (Simone Battle), who he persuades to tutor him and whose class project is a video on the meaning of success.

Although reminiscent of House Party in its extensive screen time devoted to an elaborate dance party featuring scantily clad young women gyrating sexily, the film also has serious themes thrown into its mix, including a subplot involving an aspiring rapper, C.C. (played by the equally initialed YG) and his menacing older brother (Snoop Dogg, looking like he wandered in from one of his music videos).

Despite the filmmaker’s obvious good intentions in trying to impart valuable life lessons to younger viewers, We the Party suffers from any number of problems, including uneven acting (talent isn’t always hereditary); stereotypical characters and situations; and a manic visual style featuring the sort of split-screen obsession that felt outdated decades ago.

Opens April 6 (XLrator Media)
Production: ARC Entertainment, MVP Films
CAST: Mandela Van Peebles, Simone Battle, Mario Van Peebles, Kennan Jackson, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Moises Arias, Patrick Cage II, Makaylo Van Peebles
Director/Screenwriter: Mario Van Peebles
Producers: Michael Cohen, Dwjuan F. Fox, Tal Vigderson
Executive producers: Michael Cohen, Mario Van Peebles
Director of photography: Anthony J. Rickert-Epstein
Editor: George Artope
Production designer: Sofia Jimenez
Costume designer: Moonglow
Music: Tree Adams
No rating, 104 min