Party Off

‘House Party’ reboot lacks imagination and relevance

Reginald Hudlin’s get-down/hang-out classic from 1990 gets its sixth iteration in the tepid reboot House Party, a title that wipes away the sequel number in the hopes that this well-meaning but low-energy romp will jump start a brand-new series of misadventures. It probably won’t, but the movie does have a few surprises that goose some unexpected life into the otherwise listless fun.

Why bring back a 33-year-old comedy? Lebron James is the main reason: he’s a big fan of the original and executive-produced this tabula rasa installment, which centers around two best friends charging admission to James’ mansion for an illicit rager while the basketball GOAT is at a meditation retreat in India. And that’s the film’s first misstep, a go-big-or-go-home mentality that supersizes the shenanigans into fantasyland irrelevance. Which is why Kid Cudi pops up as the member of the Illuminati, Mya sweet-talks a drugged-up koala into submission, and Lena Waithe pitches a plot-reversal update of Roots that she wants to call Stoor.

HOUSE PARTY ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Calmatic
Written by: Jamal Olori, Stephen Glover
Starring: Tosin Cole, Jacob Latimore, Karen Obilom, D.C. Young Fly, Scott Mescudi
Running time: 110 min

Everything feels forced, with slap-dash stakes and contrived conflicts revolving around best friends Kevin (Jacob Latimore) and Damon (Tosin Cole). They work for a luxury cleaning service that apparently tidies up celebrity mansions. Why these mansions don’t have their own hired help and security clearances is beyond me, but anyway the pair get fired for horsing around and yet still have access to the house. So they throw a party.

Kevin’s technically the responsible one who has a young daughter that somehow needs to get into a prestigious nursery school. Damon is the careless dreamer-schemer and wannabe party promoter who wants to be rich and famous. So charging $100 a pop for a 300-people event at Lebron’s house should set them up right. Right? High jinks ensure, as do high-profile cameos from Lil’ Wayne, Snoop Dogg, Bill Bellamy, Anthony Davis, Mark Cuban, Kid N’ Play, and the King himself. The story is all self-indulgent nonsense, although that Illuminati plot twist is just ridiculous enough to be stupidly charming.

The main reason why so many people loved the modest, low-budgeted House Party back in the day was its high-wattage charm—and the deeply-rooted sense that, despite some cartoonish flourishes, there was authenticity in its bones. High schoolers throwing down while the parents are away? Check. But the quieter moments revealed interpersonal dynamics—grandparents and younger siblings, cafeteria grudges and puppy-love crushes—that were just as sweet, palpably believable, and most of all underrepresented in the lily-white world of mainstream multiplexes. It’s like a John Hughes movie directed by Charles Burnett.

The diminishing returns of the sequels that followed were forgettable cash-grabs that wore down all the goodwill that the original banked. And this new reimagining just lacks any real imagination. Or is the good-time franchise just irrelevant in an age where Spike Lee, Barry Jenkins, and Jordan Peele have firmly established black auteurism and movies like Sorry to Bother You and Last Black Man in San Francisco are defining the black voice of modern big-screen comedies?

It’s no surprise James and his producing partners enlisted Jamal Olori and Stephen Glover to write their screenplay. Those two veterans from the landmark FX show Atlanta know a thing or two about mining humor from the contemporary Black experience. But here they seem to be pulling their punches; frankly, Atlanta already did it better with the second-season episode “Champagne Papi,” which takes its patently surreal turns at a New Year’s Eve party in Drake’s mansion.

This 2023 version of House Party seems like a fan-made celebration of the original’s impact, a victory-lap reminder of the old-school good times. And maybe that’s why it doesn’t feel as surprising or as urgent. Hip-hop culture back then was in its infancy; now it reigns supreme. There’s something redundant about the mischief. Or even unnecessary. Either way, it ain’t my type of hype.

House Party
Jacob Latimore and Tosin Cole, wondering if they can capture the low-key charms of the original ‘House Party.’

 You May Also Like

Stephen Garrett

Stephen Garrett is the former film editor of 'Time Out New York’ and has written about the movie industry for more than 20 years. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer, Garrett is also the founder of Jump Cut, a marketing company that creates trailers and posters for independent, foreign-language, and documentary films.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *