I saw an interview with Seth Rogen where he discusses the big changes in mid-budget comedies, emphasizing that they can’t feel small anymore due to the influx of comic book movies. House Party (2023) feels like it suffers, as it tries to make the stakes far too big to justify the plot. The original film from 1990 – starring the great Kid and Play – kept it simple. Kid gets grounded, but sneaks out to make it to Play’s party. Things escalate and become complicated along the way, but the start is simple and relatable: a kid just wants to party.
I try not to copy and paste the story synopsis, but doing so helps make my point. So, from Letterboxd.com, “Aspiring club promoters and best buds Damon (Tosin Cole) and Kevin (Jacob Latimore) are barely keeping things together. Out of money, down on their luck, and about to lose the roofs over their heads—and freshly fired from their low-lift jobs as house cleaners—the pair needs a huge windfall to make their problems go away. 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. No permission? No problem. What could go wrong?” The set-up for this story is clearly trying to grapple with the need to be more than just two dudes trying to enjoy a house party.
The crazy thing is the best parts of the movie are kind of huge crazy set-pieces. However, they come about in a way that could have still happened if Damon (pronounced the French way, as Da-Mon – a recurring joke in the film) had thrown a party, and all of the other details were kept away. In fact, an early scene has Kevin get accosted by three guys who are looking for Damon. They inform him – and the audience – that Kevin and Damon are fired from hosting their party. These guys keep coming back, but it never truly pays off. Unfortunately, a lot of the set-up elements of the film fall flat.
But then…there are several incredible cameos that redeem the last third of the film. Some may consider the cast list a type of spoiler, but Kid Cudi steals the show. He’s continued to show he has a talent for acting, and this is no different. There are plenty of athletes and rappers who show up in this film, and while many are just a throwaway line here and there, the ones that really get something to do use it quite well.
House Party wasn’t a total disaster, but it’s the definition of a January film. It takes too long to get going, and the payoffs aren’t good enough to justify it. I did enjoy Cole a bit and think he has the potential to be a great leading man – if given the right script. Unfortunately, I think the original House Party is far more fun, with the 2023 edition earning the Not a Total Waste of Time rating.