The thing about house parties in the movies is they’re usually entertaining as hell for us as viewers, but for the participants they often seem more stressful and chaotic and cringe-inducing than actual big-time fun fests. Whether it’s “The Great Gatsby” or “Sixteen Candles,” “Animal House” or “Superbad,” “Risky Business” or “Booksmart,” “Babylon” or “Project X,” everyone looks like they’re trying really hard to have the most memorable time of their lives even as we know there’s a solid chance the night is going to be filled with vomiting and arguments and fights and betrayals and regrets and almost certain destruction of property.
One of the unique things about the original “House Party” from 1990 is while there was an abundance of energetic and exhilarating dancing, the party itself was almost secondary to all the action that took place OUTSIDE the party. As actual house parties go, it was a relatively tame affair. (It’s kind of a running joke that the guests, including the bad guys, knock on the door instead of just barging in. Polite! And a broken toilet means the end of the party.)
Not so much with the massive, bloated, epic, over-the-top bash in the “House Party” reboot, which marks the second time LeBron James has put his enormous clout behind a new take on a beloved 1990s film (after the “Space Jam” reboot) — and the second time the results were underwhelming. Despite an admirable attempt to go bat-bleep crazy in the Third Act (more on that in a moment), a dizzying array of celebrity cameos (some perfunctory drop-ins, some admittedly hilarious extended bits) and a likable lead cast, this is a classic example of a movie that throws everything at the wall in the hopes enough of the gags will stick and we’ll forgive the overall sloppiness of the effort. Alas, the shooting percentage here is more Devonte’ Graham than Nikola Jokic.
Director Calmatic (known for music videos such as “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X) and co-writers Stephen Glover and Jamal Olori (“Atlanta”) have made significant changes for the update, including the decision to have the leads be a good 10 years older than the high school students portrayed by Kid ’n’ Play in the original. Best friends Kevin (Jacob Latimore from “The Chi”) and Damon (Tosin Cole, “Till”) are pushing 30 and struggling to make it as party promoters at night while working as house cleaners by day — but they’re so irresponsible at their daytime gig that they’re fired while working in a beautifully appointed mansion that just happens to belong to one LeBron James.
For Damon, this means he won’t be able to make rent and his aunt is going to kick him out, while the stakes are higher for Kevin, who needs to earn money pronto to pay for his daughter’s expensive preschool, lest her mother try to take full custody. Light bulb time! Seeing as how LeBron is at a meditation retreat out of the country and won’t be back for another week, and he seems to have zero security or anyone else looking after his mansion, Kevin and Damon will throw the party of the century at LeBron’s house and rake in thousands in cover charges. What could possibly go right?
The mansion fills up with influencers and wannabes and party people and celebrities such as Snoop Dogg and Mýa and Lena Waithe, among many others. There’s a running (and not terribly funny) gag about how the DJ, Vic (DC Young Fly), will turn into a trainwreck if he’s allowed to drink. We get a big dance number set to “This Is How We Do It.” Karen Obilom sparkles as Venus, a love interest for Kevin.
The friendship of Kevin and Damon is put to the test when Damon lets down Kevin, yet again. Andrew Santino does his best to wring some laughs out of playing a clueless rich neighbor who has a pet koala that looks like a distant cousin to the gopher from “Caddyshack.” (Will the koala get high before the night is over? What do you think?) By the time LeBron makes his inevitable appearance and doesn’t seem nearly as outraged as you’d expect him to be, the party is starting to feel more exhausting than exciting.
Which brings us to Kid Cudi, Scott Mescudi, who is playing himself — but an insane, alternate version of himself, not unlike Neil Patrick Harris in the “Harold and Kumar” movies or Michael Cera in “This Is the End” or Bill Murray in “Zombieland.” After LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers championship ring is stolen, Mescudi tells Kevin and Damon he knows how to replace it — and off we go on a side journey that’s all about the Illuminati and plays like a Monty Python take on “Eyes Wide Shut.” It’s a wild, flat-out crazy departure from the main story that leaves us wanting more of that madness, and less of the increasingly tiresome bash going on at LeBron’s place.