In 1990, “House Party” turned heads with its joyful depiction of the Black teen experience in a way that hadn’t been conveyed in mainstream cinema before. The modestly budgeted film ($2.5 million) generated a surprising $26 million in the box office, turned Kid ‘n Play into stars and spawned multiple sequels.
The film’s resonance over the decades led Warner Brothers and LeBron James’ production company to create a new version for 2023 that hit theaters Jan. 13.
The new “House Party” has definite echoes of the original but is an entirely revamped plotline. The two leads ― a down-and-out party promoter Kevin (Atlanta actor Jacob Latimore) and his enthusiastically problematic buddy Devon (British actor Tosin Cole) ― play men in their 20s rather than than the hapless teens in the original movie.
Kevin, the more grounded of the two characters, is desperate for cash and while cleaning LeBron James’ palatial home, Devon come up with a ridiculous idea: hold a house party there while the basketball legend is out of the country and charge a huge entry fee.
And like the two leads in the 1990 version, Devon and Kevin have three bullying tormentors who create some serious problems during the party.
“I feel like the original movie was a snapshot of the culture of that time, the lingo and the way they danced and gathered,” said Calmatic, directing his first feature film after a string of successful music videos, most notably Atlantan Lil Nas X’s breakthrough 2019 hit “Old Town Road.” “That was my plan for this, to create a snapshot of how we do what we do in 2023.”
In other words, this movie is pure escape and it doesn’t hurt that the screenplay is by Stephen Glover and James Olori, key writers for the FX show “Atlanta.” Though the film is set in Los Angeles, the movie veers between realism and surrealism like the celebrated TV show.
“I kind of approached the film using ‘Atlanta’ as the base,” said Calmatic. “I almost imagined ‘Atlanta’ as a movie, just bigger and crazier.”
Latimore, in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the W Hotel downtown earlier this month, said L.A. house parties are for real. “You get people you never invited show up,” he said. “You invite 20 people and 20 more come. Now your party is being shut down and helicopters are in the air and it’s all being livestreamed. The movie captures that.”
Calmatic said the film “plays into the ‘fake it til you make it’ culture we have here. You see these different worlds collide. It’s where you can be in the hood and 20 minutes from LeBron James’ home. Everyone in L.A. is waiting for the call or that invite to the mansion party. That’s a sign you’re making it, being able to schmooze with big names and get a picture taken with them.”
For the crazy Devon character, Cole was not an obvious pick. He moved to London at age eight and has a stack of British films and shows on his resumé, including “Dr. Who.” But once cast, the Brit was able to transform himself into a credible Angelino. “He picked up the lingo and swagger,” Calmatic said. “He’s a student of the culture. He knew what to do and how to act, and how to bring a dope character.”
Atlanta’s DC Young Fly soon arrives playing Vic, the DJ hired to make sure the party flows. And he is there for comic relief, high energy Chris Tucker style.
“But he’s not being Chris Tucker,” Calmatic argued. “It’s really a Georgia thing. It’s funny the world doesn’t really know that reference point. That’s the Atlanta energy. He’s a new generation’s Chris Tucker and beyond. The best part of filming was the days he was on set.”
The cameo parade is intense, competing with the likes of “Zoolander” and “This Is the End.” Among very recognizable faces you’ll see are Snoop Dogg, Lena Waithe, Lil Wayne, Juvenile, Tristan Thompson, Mark Cuban and the original duo of Kid ‘n Play.
Plus, Kid Cudi gets a meaty and super bizarre role as himself to the point Calmatic hopes he becomes a trending Twitter topic once the film is out.
“He’s going to shock a lot of people,” Latimore said. “We created the space for him to have fun.”
James himself appears in the movie since it’s supposedly his mansion. Latimore said he shot for two days. After the first day, James wrapped at 4 a.m., then hit the gym at 6 a.m., spent time with the family, then came back for a second day, no questions asked, he said.
Calmatic said the first cut of the movie was 160 minutes and had to be trimmed to about 100. “We had so many different off-shoot moments and ‘Atlanta’-ish scenarios,” he said. “But at the end of the day, this is going to be in theaters. We don’t want people sitting in there too long. We had all kinds of car-chase scenes, a tow yard scene. It all got cut.”
Credit: Warner Brothers
Credit: Warner Brothers
The movie has been received well by test audiences, Calmatic noted, and he hopes this will translate into box office success at a time when the genre of pure comedy has been practically dead in movie theaters.
“You have these young kids who have never seen the original and you have Gen Xers and millennials who are saying, ‘Don’t [expletive] this up,’ ” he said. “Based on the laughs, I feel like everyone will enjoy something. There are Easter eggs for all generations.”
HOW TO SEE IT
“House Party,” in metro Atlanta theaters starting Friday, Jan. 13
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