“House Party” Review: A Fun Remake But RSVP ‘Maybe’

The update to the 90s comedy and debut feature of music video director Calmatic runs out of gas in its second half
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I may have grown up in a lily-white suburb of Boston, but I watched a lot of Black sitcoms growing up, from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and The Cosby Show to Martin and Living Single, and when I was finally allowed to rent R-rated videos, the House Party movies starring Kid ‘n Play—aka Christopher Reid and Christopher Martin—quickly became favorites of mine, introducing me to folks like Queen Latifah, Chris Tucker, Bernie Mac, and Robin Harris, whose Bebe’s Kids I also adored. I hesitate to call the House Party movies “classics,” but they were fun and had a certain energy. Also, Kid ‘n Play made for charming leads.

A remake at some point was inevitable, and while 2023’s House Party does its best to level up while getting down, it can’t quite conjure up the same movie magic as the original. Tosin Cole and Jacob Latimore take over the lead roles here, and it’s a pretty typical pairing—Kevin (Latimore) is the single father (i.e. the straight man) who has a daughter and responsibilities, not to mention a crush on Venus (Karen Obilom), while Damon (Cole) is an aspiring party promoter and the always-stoned devil on his shoulder. The guys work for a cleaning service favored by the rich and famous, and Damon’s latest screw-up has been discovered on a Friday, all but ensuring the duo’s firing on Monday. However, until then, the two have the keys to their last job—a mega-mansion owned by none other than LeBron James, who is away on a two-week meditation retreat. Are you thinking what they’re thinking?

House Party
Jacob Latimore and Karen Obilom in House Party/Warner Bros.

House Party

So Damon poses as LeBron’s assistant and invites numerous celebrities in the GOAT’s endless contact list, from rappers Snoop Dogg and Lil Wayne to R&B singer Mýa, who plays Damon’s dream girl. The general idea here is that in Los Angeles, a great party can change your whole life—it could be where you’re discovered, or if you’re the host, what you’re remembered for. But more specifically, Kevin is throwing the party to raise money so his daughter can go to school—how noble—while Damon is into it to make a name for himself as a party promoter. Yeah, you have to admire their hustle… but that’s ultimately what this is.

See, neither of these guys is exactly Jay Gatsby and the party isn’t all that wild by Hollywood standards. While it felt good to cut loose, to some extent, the rager itself seems relatively tame in comparison to the parties seen in Project X and Neighbors. I mean, Babylon is still playing in theaters, which might be an even crazier house party movie, to be honest.

But again, for what this movie aims for, I enjoyed it. It’s a bit of a throwback, as indicated by the New Line logo that precedes the film, and the music starts immediately, putting you in the mood to party. Later on, it pays tribute to its 90s roots with a big dance sequence set to Montell Jordan’s classic “This Is How We Do It.”

While I laughed out loud throughout the film’s first half, it does feel as though writers Stephen Glover and Jamal Olori didn’t quite know where to take things, as there’s a lack of energy in its second half, possibly because the DJ (D.C. Young Fly) gets high, and the flow just grinds to a halt. The movie then takes a downright bizarre turn in its third act involving Kid Cudi and the Illuminati, which feels like a nod to the orgy scene in Eyes Wide Shut. There’s a violent, gross-out gag that really works during this set piece because it’s so surprising, but then director Calmatic continues the beat too long—an example of how his film is too wed to logic to really let loose and have fun. Also, for an acclaimed music video director, Calmatic could’ve done more to make this visually compelling—though costume designer Derica Cole Washington deserves props for doing her part.

House Party
Tosin Cole in House Party/Warner Bros.

House Party

Thankfully, Tosin Cole makes a strong impression here, and while I’ve been following Jacob Latimore’s career since Sleight, he does play it a little too straight here; the actor could’ve exhibited a bit more personality so we’re not just sitting there waiting for the film to shift back to Damon. Ultimately, I found myself rooting for both of them to succeed, even though I didn’t really care when one’s fate takes an unfortunate turn.

The three bumbling villains, played by Allen Maldonado, Melvin Gregg, and Rotimi, were strong and I appreciated comedian Andrew Santino (Dave) as LeBron’s goofy white neighbor, whose pet koala factors into the mix. I even enjoyed how James lampoons himself here, as there are some great gags crafted for the King that allow him to come off as more relatable, even though he’s constantly referred to as the GOAT (he also produced the movie). That said, none of the celebrity cameos are particularly funny, save for GaTa’s outtakes regarding the pronunciation of the word “marsupial.”

Speaking of which, yes, if you stay through the beginning of the end credits, you’ll be treated to a gag reel and some outtakes that will leave a smile on your face as you walk out of the theater. And that’s the thing: It’s hard not to like this movie. It delivers what it promises, and even though it could’ve been better…a little bit shorter and a little bit funnier, with a bigger budget for the soundtrack, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.

This New Line movie was originally slated to debut on HBO Max before Warner Bros. switched gears and decided to release it over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend on 1500 screens. Even if audiences don’t RSVP for this House Party in theaters, I expect it to find a flurry of fans whenever it begins streaming. Just don’t pay the cover charge expecting too much. It was fun, but hardly a night to remember.

Grade: B-

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