You wanna know how old the movie HOUSE PARTY is, and therefore how old those of us who grew up with that movie are? Well, let’s just say that I did a 20th anniversary retrospective on it thirteen years ago. So you can go ahead and do the math if you want. Personally, I refuse.
It’s not something I would put in, like, my top 100, but it’s a fun and sweet movie and a good time capsule of pop culture as it existed when I was a teen. I had a great time back in 2010 doing a quasi-pretentious review series called Kid ’n Play: 20 Years On Film: A Cinematic Legacy, in which I reviewed the original HOUSE PARTY (1990), HOUSE PARTY 2 (1991), BEBE’S KIDS (1992) (created by House Party dad Robin Harris and written by House Party writer/director Reginald Hudlin), CLASS ACT (1992) (starring Kid ’n Play), WHO’S THE MAN? (1993) (cameo by Kid ’n Play), HOUSE PARTY 3 (1994), and HOUSE PARTY 4: DOWN TO THE LAST MINUTE (2001). Then in 2013 I reviewed a new one called HOUSE PARTY: TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT. Obviously I’m a completist, so it is my duty and honor to review the 2023 addition to the franchise, which is called HOUSE PARTY.
The first time I learned of this film’s existence was actually seeing a trailer in a theater. It explains its premise about these two guys working for a cleaning service who realize that a mansion they’re cleaning belongs to Lebron James, and decide to throw a party there. It’s kind of a long trailer with some laughs in it and everything but when the title came up at the end I practically did a spit take, because at no time did it occur to me that any of that seemed like a remake of the 1990 movie that was just about high school kids having a party when the parents aren’t home.
The stars are not a rap duo, though one of the characters is an aspiring music producer. That’s Kevin (Jacob Latimore, SLEIGHT, DETROIT, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE), a young man struggling to get the money to pay for his daughter’s preschool so he doesn’t lose custody. He and his less responsible friend Damon (Tosin Cole, “Lieutenant Bastian” in THE FORCE AWAKENS, Medgar Evers in TILL) have a fledgling business as party promoters, but pay the bills working for the aforementioned cleaning service. Unfortunately they just got dumped from promoting a party with Kyle (Allen Maldonado, “Lead Gangbanger,” THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN), Guile (Rotimi, COMING 2 AMERICA) and Larry (Melvin Gregg, THE LAND) because Damon hit on one of their cousins. And then while they’re cleaning a mansion they get tipped off from their friend Venus (Karen Obilom, Doom Patrol) that they’re getting fired from that because they were seen fuckin around on the security cameras.
I’m not an NBA guy, but these characters are, so I liked the joke of them being in this mansion surrounded by basketball trophies and being slow to pick up on who the owner is. “Dude’s got Miami shit, Cleveland shit, L.A. shit…damn, pick a city, bro,” Damon says before plopping down in a chair in front of a framed Lebron jersey.
When they do figure it out, and see on Lebron’s calendar that he’s on a two week meditation retreat in India, they come up with this harebrained scheme to use his contacts to invite celebrities to a party, collect an exorbitant cover charge and duck out with the money. It’s a flimsy sitcom type premise, but a decent enough vehicle for the kinds of jokes they want to do.
The two friends clash because Damon just wants to party and play bigshot while Kevin is dealing with escalating chaos, like when their DJ friend Vic (D.C. Young Fly, HOW HIGH 2, I GOT THE HOOK UP 2) stops playing music because he gets too high and believes he is traveling between timelines. But Damon makes the ultimate sacrifice by not leaving to have drinks with his celebrity crush, R&B singer Mya (CURSED). Meanwhile, Kevin is striking up a relationship with Venus, who helps out, against her better judgment.
Latimore and Cole have a really funny rapport, and the ability to be pretty funny riffing on an okay premise and then really funny when they get to a really good one. To me it’s too broad when clueless white neighbor Peter (Andrew Santino, THE DISASTER ARTIST) says “By the way… Black Lives Matter,” but perfect when Kevin replies, “They do.” (What is he supposed to say? Thank you?)
At times it feels a little like CELEBRITY CAMEO: THE MOVIE, and I did not always know who the celebrities were. But maybe that’s for the best. The youths (which honestly means the people who are old now but younger than me) gotta have their own shit. I knew some of them, like Lena Waithe, seen getting high and pitching an idea for “reverse ROOTS.” Stay for the mid-credits outtakes, because all of her alternate takes are funnier.
I’m only vaguely familiar with Kid Cudi (X), but he has the funniest and most substantial as-himself role as the first famous person to show up, getting Damon excited until he proves to be such a weirdo that Damon gets uncomfortable and tries to get him to stop following him.
One cameo I did know is a wonderfully random one: people are thrilled when they realize they’re partying with “The Black Power Ranger” Walter Jones. Wouldn’t you be? According to IMDb, fellow Power Ranger Nakia Burrise is in the movie too – not as herself – but I guess I missed that.
Kyle, Guile and Larry take the place of the bullies Stab, Pee-Wee and Zilla played by Full Force in the original, and just like them they kinda steal the movie. They’re exaggeratedly macho and angry and their introduction, threatening a supernaturally calm Kevin on the street, is the first big laugh in the movie. No matter which angle d.p. Andrew Huebscher (BIG TIME ADOLESCENCE) switches to, the three of them are always leaning uncomfortably close to Kevin’s face and making direct crazy-eye contact while they describe in too much detail how they intend to punish him. It’s like Scared Straight meets the Method Man “Torture” skit on Enter the Wu-Tang.
A funny New Line Cinema self-reference: Damon is one of the only people to have a SNAKES ON A PLANE poster on his bedroom door in the year 2023.
The movie gets gradually more absurd, which I appreciate. There’s a puppet koala character (a neighbor’s pet), but I suppose we’ve seen that in THE ADVENTURES OF FORD FAIRLANE, and similar things in the post-THERE’S-SOMETHING-ABOUT-MARY wacky animal phase of R-rated comedy. So maybe a better example is the side quest to replace Lebron’s stolen championship ring. Kid Cudi explains that he can just bring them to an Illuminati meeting to steal it from the trophy room where they keep duplicates of all the championship trophies.
The Illuminati meeting is a big robe-wearing orgy, and they do a good job of mimicking the look of EYES WIDE SHUT. I’ve seen variations of that joke before, but can I interest you in a visual quote of the blacklight scene in BELLY? That part was cool.
Of course any HOUSE PARTY or just house party movie has to have the part where the parents come home and everybody’s in trouble. In this case it’s Lebron, who comes home a week early because he’s so great he attained enlightenment ahead of schedule. He’s furious about the trespassing but agrees to a basketball challenge from Damon, which goes about as well for Damon as one would expect in real life. It’s very contrived but I enjoyed Damon’s straight-faced self-delusion combined with his friends’ mistaken assumption that this is part of some plan other than beating Lebron James at basketball. Sure, we’ve gotten pretty far from Kid ’n Play at this point, but as far as this stuff goes it’s amusing.
HOUSE PARTY is directed by Calmatic. Yes – that Calmatic. Just kidding, I didn’t know who that was either, but as we both guessed from the name he’s a music video and commercial director. He did the Grammy and MTV award winning video for “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X. A song title and artist I have heard of. The script is by Jamal Olori & Stephen Glover, which is what gave me hope, because they’re writers on Atlanta, one of my favorite TV shows ever. Glover is Donald Glover’s younger brother, and the one actually rapping on the “Paper Boi” song in the show. Though this is not nearly as good as Atlanta I can see some overlap. Kevin has a very similar personality and role to Donald’s character Earn, and it shares a penchant for absurdism in some of the humor (example: it takes place in a world where Kid Cudi has died and been replaced by a clone four times, each with a different hair color) even if it’s much broader.
If you didn’t know this existed that’s probly because it was originally meant to go direct to Home Box Office Maximum, but was switched to a theatrical release as part of that restructuring where they killed BATGIRL. That may not have been the best idea, since it only made $9.2 million, which I gotta assume is less than the budget + advertising. But they did just release it on DVD and blu-ray, so maybe the theatrical release served as promotion for that. If it makes $1 in profit that’s more than it would’ve made from streaming.
I don’t have a problem with Warner Brothers using HOUSE PARTY as a brand name to revive for a new generation and/or for nostalgia. One thing that made the original a big deal was that there wasn’t much of a precedent for light-hearted, Black-youth-oriented comedies for that era. It definitely helped kick off a whole industry of independent comedies with primarily Black casts and filmmakers, but there hasn’t exactly been a glut recently of mainstream releases in a HOUSE PARTY vein. At least not that I could point to.
The part of it that feels more cynical is the Lebron James-ness. I mean it’s a funny premise, he’s more actually-good than celebrity-playing-himself-for-comedy-good in his scenes, and there’s a joke I loved about him having a giant dish of cocaine in his trophy room. But knowing he and his company produced the movie I started to realize it probly wasn’t somebody approaching him with a “Would you be willing to play yourself for this weird joke?” and more of a “this i.p. and the Lebron James brand can combine forces to become even more powerful!” type deal, which is kinda gross to imagine. Maybe I wouldn’t have thought about it if he hadn’t also done SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY (which admittedly I only know from advertising).
Still, I think this is overall an enjoyable comedy. You certainly can’t get mad about it if you’ve seen the gawd awful HOUSE PARTY 4: DOWN TO THE LAST MINUTE. Even comparing it to the original and best HOUSE PARTY, I think it’s fair to say that it has more laughs and slicker filmatism. However, I think it’s more disposable. In the context of all this craziness, the parts where they try to be sincere and make us care about Kevin’s music dreams and dedication to his daughter feel pretty forced. In the original film I actually do kind of care about the friendship, and about Kid’s relationship with his DOLEMITE-loving dad, played by Robin Harris. That’s why I’ve rewatched that more than once but probly wouldn’t with this one. But that’s fine.
Although it is a very loose remake, it pays a little more respect to the original than I would’ve guessed from the trailer. It uses the same nice kid/wild ladies man dynamic with the duo, and the weirdo DJ friend, and the trio of bullies. The original featured Kid ’n Play, Full Force, Groove B. Chill and a George Clinton cameo in the days when having musicians from the rap/R&B world as actors wasn’t yet common; this one brings in Kid Cudi, Mya, Snoop Dogg, Juvenile, Lil Wayne and others.
And there are those expected nods, like mentioning a “pajammy jammy jam” (sequel reference). The most famous part of HOUSE PARTY is when they do their dance routine at the party, and that’s the one part faithfully recreated in the remake or whatever this is. That was cute, but actually I got a bigger laugh from an earlier joke where we see the security camera feeds that got them fired, and in one of them they’re on the lawn doing the dance.
One more thing. I will label this a SPOILER because it’s a good joke that I was glad I didn’t know was coming, but if you’re not gonna watch it you might consider this important information. I wondered the whole time if, like the previous non Kid-’n-Play-starring HOUSE PARTY, it would have a cameo by Kid ’n Play. It does indeed, and it’s a pretty funny idea: they are seen briefly as attendees of the Illuminati orgy. Man, I should’ve known!