House Party, 2023.
Directed by Calmatic.
Starring Tosin Cole, Jacob Latimore, Karen Obilom, D.C. Young Fly, Scott Mescudi, Shakira Ja’nai Paye, Andrew Santino, Bill Bellamy, Allen Maldonado, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Snoop Dogg, Lil Wayne, Lena Waithe, Melvin Gregg, Christopher Reid, Christopher “Play” Martin, Tamera Kissen, Rotimi, Nakia Burrise, Olivia Sky, Christopher Wolfe, Irie Soule, Alexis Molton, Chinedu Unaka, Kevin Carlson, Michael C. Bradford, Tinashe, and Anthony Davis.
Aspiring club promoters and best buds Damon and Kevin are barely keeping things together. In a ‘what the hell?’ move, they decide to host the party of the year at an exclusive mansion, the site of their last cleaning job, which just happens to belong to none other than LeBron James.
Somehow, this modernized House Party falls apart once the titular party begins. The usual issues apply to most sequels and reboots, such as going bigger and crazier. In this case, rather than characters throwing a standard high school or college-based rager, music video helmer turned first-time director Calmatic (who also has a remake of White Men Can’t Jump on the horizon, which is a somewhat frightening prospect after having seen this), the friends at the story’s center happen to clean homes for rich people and, through irresponsible and questionable but charming behavior, find themselves looking to make some hefty, easy cash by posing as assistants to NBA superstar LeBron James (the owner of the home), throwing a giant bash for commoners and celebrities alike while he is away meditating in India.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with that setup, as the screenplay from Stephen Glover and Jamal Olori grounds this far-fetched scenario with relatable motives and a lengthy planning process. It also allows for some time to get to know the characters, at one point, eliciting hopeful optimism that the filmmakers might land on something touching across the usual friendships comedy clichés.
Kevin and Damon (Jacob Lattimore and Tosin Cole) work the same dead-end job but have polar opposite levels of responsibility. The former is ambitious and eager to start an IT job in a month and desperately scrambling for cash to put his daughter through elementary school and file for full custody. Meanwhile, Damon is a slacker, trying to become a social media influencer while kickstarting parties. That’s not to say Kevin doesn’t make mistakes, as he is easily influenced by Damon’s poor ideas, with his arc focused on realizing the part he plays in his failures and learning to hold accountability for his actions. Whether or not we feel he deserves custody of a child is up in the air, but the antics and humor surrounding the house party are enough to get us on board with the whole scheme.
There’s also something fascinating regarding the concept of a comedy taking place inside the luxurious home of a wealthy superstar, done so for real. For a while, LeBron James even seems in on the joke and willing to indulge in some self-deprecating humor via hologram that strokes his ego with absurd, often hilarious compliments (“you should be rated 100 in NBA 2K!”) One would also presume it would lend itself to a comedic playground with unlimited potential for big laughs.
Supporting characters are also introduced, ranging from a scene-stealing DJ who can’t be trusted with alcohol on the job, potential love interests (Damon uses everything in the home he possibly can in a misguided attempt to impress his crush), bullies with a grudge against the two (one of them has an endearing penchant for violent threats that are so extremely silly they don’t make any sense), and a scrawny white neighbor with a marsupial who doesn’t suspect what’s going on, but is quick to express his support (done in meaningless ways deserving of ridicule) for the BLM movement.
Of course, once the party starts, a plethora of cameos are to be expected, although unfortunately, none of them feel shocking (sorry, but Snoop Dogg will show up in anything for a paycheck, and Kid Cudi’s material is embarrassingly dopey). There are other musical guests and basketball stars, mostly fading into the background without making an impact of any kind.
Kevin and Damon end up in conversations with others about their true passions, love, and more, and inevitably bicker with one another, which is fine, except Calmatic demolishes any semblance of these characters as real people by thrusting them into inexplicably baffling situations, sometimes away from the party. Without saying much, the Illuminati is involved here; that’s ridiculous and incredibly dated. As a one-off joke, it’s okay, but whoever dares go to see this will not be prepared for the cartoon this turns into. Much of the film also recycles jokes, character beats, and ideas from the original in typical uninspired reboot fashion.
It’s not unfair to say that House Party is disjointed and has no idea what it wants to be all throughout its running time, even if it’s a mildly entertaining diversion for a while, but the third act is littered with forced nonsense that doesn’t add anything substantial to the characters or party. Even worse, the party itself is boring. Something is wrong in a movie called House Party when I’ve experienced wilder ones than an organized shebang at LeBron James’s house. That’s also a shame since some of the performances are legitimately funny. Forget cleaning houses; someone needed to clean up the script.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com