It’s never a good idea to promise too much, either in an invitation to a house party held in a stranger’s mansion, or in a reboot of a three-decade old hit.
But the new “ House Party ” does just that, starting out with a romantic voiceover about Los Angeles, where we’re told “a party can change your life” as we’re shown a loving montage of storefronts and people in South LA. Fair enough, but then they take it to another level with the pitch that, “Some crazy, beautiful, weird ass (expletive) is about to go down.” If only.
This version is especially convoluted, trying to get two broke best friends, struggling single dad Kevin (Jacob Latimor) and aspiring promoter Damon (Tosin Cole), in a position where they might be able to throw a big party at LeBron James’ house. It’s not as hard as you might think, it turns out. These guys work for a fancy cleaning company and one day end up on assignment in a very big, very nice house. It’s only when Damon stumbles into a trophy room that they realize whose grounds they’re standing on: The GOAT, as we’re reminded over and over again.
The logic puzzle continues as they scheme to plan a party, which they hope will solve Kevin’s financial woes, pay for his daughter Destiny’s education through college and put Damon’s party promoting skills on the map. This master plan includes posing as James’ assistants, hacking into and inviting his famous friends and teammates and charging big entry fees to the normals. The figure will cover security, cleaning fees and all of their hopes and dreams. A desk calendar with the words MEDITATION RETREAT scrawled over two weeks leaves them breathing easy that James will not be returning home anytime soon.
“House Party,” written by Stephen Glover and Jamal Olori and directed by Calmatic, a Grammy winning music video director, takes quite a bit of time (around an hour) to get to the actual party. In the build up, they try to get us to care about Kevin and Damon’s stakes and indulge in some wealth voyeurism as the two bask in the little conveniences of the uber rich, including self-fluffing couches, a bed that conforms to the body, a bidet and popcorn that drops out of the ceiling into a popcorn bowl on voice command in a plush screening room.
The only really fun part of this extended cribs riff is the LeBron hologram they find in his closet that gives compliments. “You handled the decision to go to Miami perfectly.” “Your hairline is perfect.” “You were great in ‘Trainwreck,’ ... The New Yorker said you were the funniest part of the movie.”
It should be noted that Kevin and Damon know they’re getting fired already by the time they decide to throw the party. The cleaning company execs saw them goofing around on surveillance footage but staffing shortages mean they’re still needed to finish the job and Damon knows how to turn off the cameras for a few days. Again, logic.
One of the biggest problems is that none of this ever seems like a good idea, or even something that might be fun for a moment. There is a pervasive dread to the whole endeavor as you wait to see where the chips fall. These characters aren’t dumb teenagers and they also don’t seem that desperate for fast money. “House Party” is supposed to be a good time for someone, right?
There are quite a few big-name cameos playing themselves, but the only one who really gets to have fun with it is Scott Mescudi, or Kid Cudi, playing it straight as an anti-social lurker who doesn’t like parties (“too much laughing”) and only wanted to go to give his pal LeBron a poem. He and the LeBron hologram are the big highlights of the film.
Things take an especially outlandish turn when, for reasons too silly to explain, they have to leave the party and go to another “Illuminati” party with “Eyes Wide Shut” vibes. It was probably a good on paper idea but feels like it belongs in a different comedy.
In one version of the world, “House Party” was a straight to HBO Max offering which made a certain amount of sense for this half-baked endeavor. This party isn’t worth a trip much further than living room.
“House Party,” a Warner Bros. release in theaters Friday, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association for “pervasive language, drug use, sexual material and some violence.” Running time: 100 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
MPA Definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr.