Review: ‘House Party’

LeBron James' Crib Hosts A Jam To Remember In A Wild Comedy Reboot That Does Its Own Thing

I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but…I REALLY enjoyed House Party. This isn’t even really tough for me to admit. That’s how much fun I had with this new, updated version of the seminal party joint from 1990. Let me be clear: the original House Party, which starred iconic rap duo Kid ‘n Play, is as much a part of my childhood and the person I am today that I could probably reenact the dance-off sequence RIGHT NOW if I weren’t old and broken down. When it was first announced that LeBron James of all people wanted to do a new one, I loathed the idea and quietly hoped for its demise. When casting problems delayed things, I silently cheered. Boy, was I wrong, because I laughed a lot and you know what? The people around me were laughing a lot, too.

Here’s the thing: this new House Party from music video director Calmatic (also charged with a White Men Can’t Jump remake) isn’t trying to be the movie I remember from my teen years. It’s got its own thing going on, its own bizarre, loopy energy that dragged me in, kicking and screaming at first, but then wholeheartedly. That said, it’s also full of callbacks to the original that people like me will instantly recognize, like a trio of bullies with the same attitude and physique of Full Force. Gone is the colorful ’90s zip that captured hip-hop at its highest cultural peak, replaced by a celebrity glitz and glam and, yes, social media sketchiness that is definitely of the moment. You won’t be at all surprised that many of the characters are “influencers” ragging one another about their followers, or lack thereof. The vibes are way different here, but House Party has always been about being funny for the moment that it’s in. Anyone who goes in expecting this one to be the same as before is dooming themself to disappointment.

“This is Los Angeles. A city where a party can change your life,” introduces Kevin, played by Jacob Latimore. Kevin is, like so many Black parents in the movies it seems, broke and yet trying to afford a really expensive private school for his daughter. Why is this damn trope so prevalent? Anyway, Kevin has serious responsibilities to take care of, and a need to find some real money before his parents (Bill Bellamy at retirement age is just…weird.) sell the house and move away to Florida. Kevin has dreams of making beats as a producer, but for now he works a crappy cleaning gig alongside his fun-loving,wildly irresponsible pal Damon (pronounced the French way!), played by Tosin Cole with Chris Tucker energy. Damon is the classic terrible friend who always gets his straight-laced pal into trouble, and it isn’t long before the two learn they’re about to be fired for goofing around on the job. But they have one last house to clean, a giant mansion they eventually learn, through some embarrassingly long trial and error, belongs to LeBron James.

House Party rolls along nicely in the beginning, with a big part of the enjoyment watching Kevin and Damon adventure through LeBron’s massive home. This thing has it all: a movie theater, its own museum, a James hologram that dispenses words of affirmation, and a trophy room with all of the superstar athlete’s prized possessions. It doesn’t take much convincing for Damon, an aspiring party promoter, to convince his pal they should throw a crazy house party in LeBron’s crib. Hey, baby needs an expensive pre-school, right? It’s time to get this party started right!! Good thing LeBron is away on a two-week meditation retreat in India. The sketching out of LeBron as this zen-like guru and master of all things is a recurring theme in every film he’s been in, including Trainwreck (which gets name-checked here) and Space Jam 2. But LeBron isn’t afraid to poke fun at himself, too, which is more than can be said for some other egotistical actors out there.

Latimore and Cole are no Kid ‘n Play, I won’t pretend it’s even close. The centerpiece dance number from the classic film gets an update, but women are so underserved here that it lacks the same sexual tension. Karen Obilom fills in nicely as Venus, Kevin’s goal-oriented, deeply devoted friend and love interest, but she often feels like she was flown in from a different movie. The dance showdown she has with Kevin and Damon comes across like a TikTok post, lacking originality. But I’ll say this for Latimore and Cole; they find a reliable rhythm as straight-man and eccentric goof. Between them, it’s Cole who gets all of the best lines, like his “Sweet chunky Black baby Jesus” upon discovering LeBron’s stash of expensive cars.

However, the stand-out of the film isn’t one of the duo at all. It’s Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi, sporting red hair, and a dour, Poe-like demeanor. To get across just how far out in left field this House Party goes, Cudi’s arrival also heralds the involvement of The Illuminati, cloning technology, an Eyes Wide Shut-esque soiree, and reincarnation. In a film that also involves a killer koala who smokes weed with Lena Waithe, it’d be madness to ever try and guess where this House Party is going at any point in time, and that’s part of the charm.

Celebrity cameos abound at every turn, from actors, and rappers, to scores of NBA stars. Of course, the real LeBron shows up eventually. Of course, he gets to shoot some hoops with high stakes on the line, or as high as the stakes get for a movie like this. This House Party doesn’t have the same underdog spirit. It sorta feels like a mish-mash of Friday and other Black comedies, but that’s okay. The music pumps, the jokes don’t quit, and the party rocks so hard it puts a hole in LeBron’s floor. I don’t know if it’s enough to warrant a “Pajama Jammy Jam” sequel, but this House Party is one you’ll want to RSVP for. No cap.

House Party opens in theaters on January 13th.

House Party
Travis Hopson
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.
review-house-partyI can't believe I'm going to say this, but...I REALLY enjoyed House Party. This isn't even really tough for me to admit. That's how much fun I had with this new, updated version of the seminal party joint from 1990. Let me be clear:...