THE STORY – Aspiring club promoters and best buddies Damon and Kevin are barely keeping things together. Out of money, down on their luck and about to lose the roofs over their heads, they need a huge windfall to make their problems go away. They soon decide to host the party of the year at an exclusive mansion, which just happens to belong to none other than NBA superstar LeBron James. What could go wrong?
THE CAST – Tosin Cole, Jacob Latimore, Karen Obilom, D.C. Young Fly & Scott Mescudi
THE TEAM – Calmatic (Director)m Jamal Olori & Stephen Glover (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 110 Minutes
It’s been remarked upon quite frequently that the major Hollywood studios will continue to rely on previously established properties to secure easy profits when in doubt. The landscape dominated by well-known IP certainly speaks to this current economic mentality, and the stage can get monotonous with the glut of unoriginality. Still, suppose there was ever a silver lining to this state of affairs. In that case, it does mean that the roads eventually lead to stories that spotlighted those needing more representation, giving them cinematic experiences that rivaled the mainstream counterparts. The latest “House Party” embodies this mentality and brings it to a modern age, though the results are far less desirable.
This new retelling also focuses on a pair of best friends struggling with their daily conflicts. Kevin (Jacob Latimore) is a single father who is dealing with the financial burden of paying for his daughter’s preschool and finding a new place of residence. Damon (Tosin Cole) sees himself as a spirited entrepreneur and promoter but can’t break free from his bad habits and boisterous unreliability. Both of them arrive at a crossroads where they recognize a change must come. That is when inspiration strikes while on the job as cleaners in a Los Angeles mansion. They discover the house is owned by none other than LeBron James, and he’s scheduled to be away for the next week. Their plan is to throw a well-publicized party, making money from the cover charges. However, things undoubtedly do not unfold without incident, as the mayhem escalates and this strong friendship is tested to its limit.
There is something admirable in the film’s attempt to introduce a new context for this familiar premise, but the execution is unfortunately quite poor. Calmatic makes his feature directorial debut here, but there isn’t much from a filmmaking perspective that leaves much impact. It’s a serviceable effort but often gives way to an awkward sense of momentum that unnaturally flows between the comedic beats. The tedious pacing soon becomes laborious to endure, leaving one exhausted by the end. Calmatic does have a colorful eye, particularly in the emphasis on a dazzling array of modern costuming, but most of his directorial choices do not give off a memorable impression.
What is far more egregious is the screenplay from Stephen Glover and Jamal Olori, painfully lacking any substantial humor to give the narrative weight. There are a few lines here that elicit a chuckle. Still, many of its targets are low-hanging fruit that is overtly sophomoric in tone, not to mention occasionally tinged with a slight whiff of homophobia. The elements that move the story forward are contrived in their construction, bordering on nonsensical, even for a broad comedy. The attempt to widen the intimate scope leads the storytelling to go completely off the rails in an arduous tangent with little to make these aspects compelling. The script does not endear one to its characters nor enthralls one with its hollow sense of comedy.
As the central leads, one can appreciate the comradery that Latimore and Cole share with one another, though the former is rather bland and too unassuming to shoulder most of the film’s attention. Cole’s screen presence can often be grating, but there are moments of charm that peek through, which can be effective. As the protagonists, neither are all that captivating and are surrounded by a supporting cast that is relatively thankless or distractingly histrionic. The only ensemble member who succeeds at being consistently funny is D.C. Young Fly, the hired DJ for the party. It’s not a subtle portrayal, but he delivers some of the best jokes, and his humorous demeanor feels perfectly calibrated to the material. It’s a small role that is made the most of by Young Fly, which can’t be said for too many others here.
The ending to “House Party” commits one of the most glaring sins any comedy can perform: it showcases a blooper reel. It’s an archaic practice that, more often than not, is the ultimate signal of concession, lamenting to its audience that there is so little confidence that any of the written bits would be successful that the last desperate act is to show people fleeting moments, out of context, where things happened to be accidentally funny. It’s an underwhelming but not surprising method. The rest of the piece lacks any real wit to make it engrossing, with flat characters and little creativity with its ideas. Humor is subjective, but much of what is supplied here is shallow and obvious. One can feel some semblance of happiness for a reimagined classic being made for a new audience to see themselves. At the same time, one can also hope for better conclusions.