New Line // 1990 // 102 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // June 14th, 2000
Get jiggy with it.
New Line has released all three House Party films, early '90s comedies about black kids, well...having a big house party, as standard editions with few extras but their usual commitment to great picture and quality soundtracks. This, the first in the series, came out in 1990 and was the freshest of the three, though still a film ultimately uninteresting to any but its target demographic.
If you like hip-hop, and you're down with the lingo, then this is probably a good film for you. It did rather well at the box office; garnering more than 26 million for what had to be an inexpensive film to make. Not everything has to cost $100 million and depend on huge receipts to make money. I'm sure its niche of urban hip-hop lovers happily came to see this one.
The closest analogy I could find to this film in my mind was that it is a black version of Beach Blanket Bingo with hip-hop music instead of beach surfer tunes. It has much the same innocence; though it has tons of really bad language that seems to be just the way everyone talks instead of true cursing. Older white people like me almost need a dictionary to understand the dialogue, and I kept my subtitles up rather than puzzle over just what was said. Not that you couldn't understand the dialogue; the soundtrack is fine. It was the words themselves, especially the raps done as part of the movie.
The comparison stuck in my mind because ultimately these are just kids trying to get to a party at a house where the parents aren't home and get home without getting in trouble. Interchangeably with the Nazi surfer dudes in those Frankie Avalon flicks are the comic villains of Stab, Pee Wee, and Zilla. They are hounding our hero Kid (Christopher Reid), a basically good boy with a hairdo that looks like a tree stump on his head. Kid got in trouble in school with the three bullies and now his dad won't let him go to the party, but of course he sneaks out to go anyway. His partner in crime and everything else is his pal Play (the other half of the rap duo Kid n' Play) who is having the party. A third pal named Bilal is played straight by Martin Lawrence (Blue Streak, Bad Boys, Big Momma's House) before he achieved the degree of fame he has now. Bilal is the DJ for the party and our rappers and has the nickname "Dragon Breath" because of a bad case of halitosis only he seems oblivious of. He'll be back for House Party 2 but was too famous by the time House Party 3 came along.
That's basically the story. Kid has to sneak out from the house, evade the bullies, and maybe win the affections of one of a pair of best friend cuties. Several comic adventures along the way pay off with the dance sequences at the big party and the rap of our heroes. Friendship, love, and the certainty of punishment when he gets home is the destined end for the film. But the film is also a musical, just like those beach movies. Much of the slapstick humor and adventures is just something to hang hip-hop and rap numbers on, and since the lead actors are rappers they rap as part of the story rather than only using it as part of the musical score. The music and dance worked far better than the comedy for me; even though it isn't my kind of music I still managed to enjoy it.
New Line is offering each of the three films as a standard edition; a dual layered disc with both anamorphic widescreen or pan and scan versions. You have the choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 sound or Dolby Surround. Typical for New Line, the movies look great. Even the oldest of them look brand new. Bright, vivid colors, great blacks and fleshtones, no artifacts, no flaws. It's getting pretty easy to judge video quality on New Line discs. Even the first 10 year old film looks pristine. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track has a wide front soundstage and good frequency response, but has that "typical comedy" soundtrack, meaning not much besides the score hits the surrounds. I did find that the level of the sound was pretty low; music didn't quite have the punch I expected, especially bass heavy hip-hop numbers. Dialogue was well integrated and always clearly understood, but I did have to turn my system up to levels that on another disc (and even the first logo at startup) would be deafening. Still it sounded fine with that caveat.
Filmographies for the main cast members and director and a trailer are all the extras on the discs of all three movies. That is notable only because it is New Line who usually gives more on even standard edition discs. Perhaps there simply wasn't room by choosing to add the pan and scan version to a DVD-9 disc.
Looking back on the film I actually like it a bit more than I did on first viewing. For a comedy, I noticed the first time I laughed was almost 45 minutes into the film. I could tell there was plenty that was supposed to be funny earlier, but perhaps only funny for a younger, hipper viewer. Things picked up quite a bit at the party itself and afterwards and I did get several more chuckles. The music and dance, as I said, was far better than the comedic parts of the film, at least for me.
If you're in the target demographic then you will probably enjoy this disc much more than I did. Hip-hop fans should at least rent it just for the musical aspect of the film. If you are already a fan of these films, then the disc is worthy of purchase on the strength of the video and sound quality. The sound wasn't perfect, but acquits itself well.
If you're like me and not in that target demographic, then be prepared to use subtitles just to basically learn a new dialect as you go along. After watching all three of these films perhaps I've learned a little bit, though probably just enough to have myself dated 10 years instead of 25.
New Line and House Party are acquitted of any charges. The film is just an innocent little romp of a musical comedy and has no pretensions of importance. New Line is pretty much incapable of getting charged with any major crime by this court; they have proven their commitment to quality many times over.
Review content copyright © 2000 Norman Short; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Cast and Crew Info