Since LeBron James and his producing partner Maverick Carter gave us a brand-new Space Jam nobody wanted a year and a half ago, they’ve again gone back to the ‘90s to remake another beloved title in African-American households: House Party.
Instead of hip-hop duo Kid n’ Play playing teenagers getting into some raucous, rap-heavy shenanigans during a rowdy shindig, we have actor/singer Jacob Latimore (Collateral Beauty) and British actor Tosin Cole (Till) as two LA-based buddies/aspiring party promoters. They get fired from their house-cleaning jobs (never smoke weed in an area covered with security cameras!) and, desperate for cash, hold a big-ass kickback in the last mansion they cleaned. You wanna guess which current NBA legend owns that abode?
Just as he did with Jam, King James comes up short in producing a consistently funny film. Instead of an experienced comedy director, he gets first-timer/music-video helmer Calmatic. Although he’s made cheeky visuals for many an MC (after all, he is the guy who directed Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road”), he can’t sustain yuks at a feature-length level. What’s even more upsetting is that Atlanta writers Stephen Glover and Jamal Olori penned the script, failing to come with the clever zaniness they brought to that show. The first half is basically characters spewing exposition at each other, filling up the runtime until we get to the party, which — from the way Calmatic flatly films it —seems to take place only in a couple of rooms. Glover and Olori do slide in some satirical silliness in the third act, as the main characters attend another more secret, more powerful soiree.
Of course, there are copious references and callbacks to Reginald and Warrington Hudlin’s 1990 original sprinkled here and there. But this remake/reboot/re-imagining/what-the-hell-ever has less in common with that hip-hop comedy — which premiered at Sundance (Google it) and helped set off the ‘90s Black-filmmaker renaissance — than the four (I shit you not!) sequels. Just like in those half-assed raunch-fests, this party relies heavily on celebrity cameos (Lil Wayne! Odell Beckham! Snoop Dogg! Cole from Martin?) and the gung-ho improv skills of the myriad comedians in the cast.
Indeed, the funniest stuff comes out of the mouths of the comics, like Wild n’ Out regular D.C. Young Fly (as the party’s alcoholic DJ), Melvin Gregg (as a very imaginative thug), Andrew Santino (as a koala-owning neighbor), and the recently-departed Teddy Ray (as a security guard). Even a couple celebs give us some surprisingly nutty moments; Scott Mescudi (aka emo rap god Kid Cudi) has a ball basically playing the weirdo version of Kid Cudi some people think he is.
These supporting players provide far more laughs than Latimore and Cole. Not only do they lack the charismatic chemistry of Kid n’ Play (who, yes, do have cameos in this) in the original, their characters — Latimore is a beat-making single dad and Cole is a scheming, wannabe influencer— are not that interesting. It’s another buddy comedy where the responsible yin and the irresponsible yang bicker, bust balls, briefly split up, and eventually work together to become better friends and better men, all while taking part in a tremendously bad idea — both the party and the movie.
“House Party” is in theaters Friday.