Review: ‘House Party,’ a blast from the past that should have remained there
Fun fact about Reginald Hudlin’s 1990 classic comedy “House Party” starring comedic duo Kid ‘n Play: It was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry housed at the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant,” no doubt referring to the high-top fade and iconic kick-step dance that it popularized. It’s no wonder that New Line and Warner Bros. fired up the reboot machine for this title three decades later to give the concept a fresh new 2020s spin, especially with basketball superstar LeBron James on board to develop, produce and appear in the project.
The good news is that after a few delays, the “House Party” remake, directed by acclaimed music video and commercial director Calmatic in his feature debut, is in theaters. The bad news is that this one is definitely not headed for the Library of Congress. This comedically and narratively muddled take on the title (not even the original premise) is deeply unfunny and downright tiresome.
Back in 1990, Kid ‘n Play portrayed two high school students sneaking out to a house party and finding adventure along the way. In the remake, Jacob Latimore and Tosin Cole star as 20-something best friends Kevin and Damon (pronounced “Duh-mon”), ne’er-do-well party promoters by night, house cleaners by day, who find themselves working at LeBron James’ mansion and decide to throw a party there while he’s away.
As a wise man (Danny Glover in “Lethal Weapon”) once said, “I’m too old for this [expletive],” and indeed that may be the case with “House Party,” in which watching these two unlikable morons make a series of increasingly idiotic decisions with regard to James’ home, art collection and championship trophies becomes a truly unbearable endurance test for anyone watching who has ever rented an Airbnb.
The careless property damage might be worth it if there were any stakes or sense of narrative momentum to the script by Stephen Glover and Jamal Olori. Kevin keeps claiming he needs to throw the party to earn money for his daughter’s school (custody seems to be a factor), because his musty homemade beats aren’t making him any money, and his parents (Bill Bellamy and Nia Long in an unfortunately short appearance) are selling their home. Damon’s motivation seems to be that he just wants to floss in a borrowed mansion for the ’gram.
The film drifts from one scene or scenario to the next without much to thrust it forward; when Kevin gets frustrated with Damon, claiming the party’s out of control, it seems to be only because it’s the appropriate time in the story for that to happen, not that the party itself is actually out of control. The saggy, baggy narrative is knit together with celebrity cameos and Y2K nostalgia — the best moment comes from a surprise performance by Juvenile, and singer Mýa has a supporting role.
The comedy waffles between nonsensically heightened and realistically grounded, often alternating between the two modes at random, never landing on a tone. The only semi-interesting part of the film features rapper-actor Scott Mescudi, a.k.a. Kid Cudi, as himself, and an “Eyes Wide Shut”-style “Illuminati” party. It’s a momentary diversion, but Mescudi is a captivating screen presence, and that’s the house party we’d actually like to see — not this messy, frustrating remake that doesn’t manage to justify its own existence.
Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.
Rated: R, for pervasive language, drug use, sexual material and some violence
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Playing: Starts Jan. 13 in general release
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