Nineties nostalgia is in full swing. Looking at the store window displays over the last few weeks of holiday shopping, I had many moments of déjà vu. I wondered, “Didn’t I wear that back in the day?” Somehow, “back in the day” has become three decades ago and what’s old is new again—but with a twist. Just as our clothing was manufactured differently back then compared to the present day’s less-than-sturdy fast fashion, things have changed. You can’t always recapture the past, only an approximation of it.
Dubbed a remix of the original 1990 movie, music video director Calmatic refashions “House Party” for a world of McMansions and Instagram influencers. In this new vision, best friends Damon (Tosin Cole) and Kevin (Jacob Latimore) find themselves recently fired from their cleaning job and in a financial pinch after getting kicked off the bill of their own party by a trio of angry promoters. They decide to throw the ultimate party at their last job site—LeBron James’ house—to solve their problems, but they find plenty of mischief, mayhem, and even another elite party to crash in the process.
The first “House Party” and its remake share numerous visual and narrative elements, and part of the latter’s appeal can be seen in all of its homages and references. The original “House Party” starred hip-hop duo Kid ‘n Play (Christopher Reid and Christopher Martin) as high schoolers and aspiring party hosts. Like the first movie, both sets of friends in the story seem like an odd pairing—one is more sensitive and musically creative but shy about it, and the other is a nonstop instigator of bad but fun ideas and an incorrigible flirt. Cole and Latimore throw themselves into this dynamic with a charming rapport, switching between fighting against and for each other. Their characters seem to share a closeness that only comes with time and trust. Their active support for each other often feels more profound and emotional than a silly comedy about partying at a famous person’s house might suggest.
Aside from including a few similar supporting characters, like a love interest and quirky DJ, most of the narrative similarities between the two movies stop there, which caught a few diehard fans at my screening by surprise. The low-budget neighborhood party put together by a few teenagers is now an outsized event at a celebrity’s house, focused on inviting famous names, spreading the word through social media, and hiring the Keystone Cops version of party security. The scrappy and modest intentions of the first movie are replaced by the need to make it look flashy and more expensive than authentic. In trying to appeal to the new generation, the filmmakers lose something of yesteryear’s appeal. To sell this opulent party, the new “House Party” doubles down on the famous cameos, something the original started with George Clinton, but in the interest of not spoiling some of the movie’s best surprises, I’ll leave them unnamed. At least one of the most imessentialarryovers from the ’90s movie, the Kid ‘n Play kick step, makes a dance battle appearance.
Calmatic (who is also scheduled to remake another ’90s title, “White Men Can’t Jump“) cinematographer Andrew Huebscher, and editor Matthew Barbato match the silliness of Jamal Olori and Stephen Glover’s screenplay by turning the mansion setting into a blue-lit night club and sharply cutting to double their jokes’ effect. But not all the punchlines land—like a jab about being paid “Mexican wages” in front of a Latino character, which takes a little fun out of the carefree atmosphere.
While this remix of “House Party” may leave some nostalgic for the original, it smartly doesn’t try to copy the first film. However, it does stay true to the first version’s celebration of friendship. Here’s to the ones who have your back, the ones who make life interesting, and the ones who will find a way to throw a party at LeBron James’ home with you.
Now playing in theaters.