Picks and Pans Review: House Party

updated 04/16/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/16/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Christopher Reid, Christopher Martin

Like most draggy teenage comedies, this movie has male hormones where its heart should be and a bowl of guacamole in the brainpan. Devoted to the never-ending quest of young male adolescents—to get young female adolescents to take their clothes off—it is wholly unoriginal.

Except for one difference: Box office success notwithstanding, it should appeal almost exclusively to black audiences. Directed and written by East St. Louis, Ill., product (and Harvard grad) Reginald Hudlin, it includes only three white actors with speaking parts: two racist cops who harass every black they see and a high school principal who can't understand why two boys get into a fight when one calls the other's mother a "ho." "Could you tell me why in God's name you called his mother a garden tool?" she asks.

The dialogue is often in a dense black English dialect: "She's a def woman—this ain't no tack." (She's very attractive and this is not a deceptive remark.) Most of the film, though, is devoted to young men and women bluffing, threatening, preening and exchanging such lines as: "I'll drop your bozo ass like a bad cold"; "I'll kick your ass"; "This is why I don't DJ for free: niggers don't be appreciatin's—-." (These are relatively obscenity-free examples.)

Mixed in are scenes of the title event and a running chase involving three buffoonish bullies (played by the R&B group Full Force) who are after Reid.

Hudlin makes a token attempt to give his characters personality, including one quiet scene with Reid and the late comic Robin Harris, who plays Reid's devoted (but not funny) single father.

Reid and Martin, also known as the rap group Kid N' Play, are both likable; Reid in particular has a fey appeal, with his wide eyes and a hairdo that looks as if he has been wearing a two-pound coffee can on his head for a year. Lawrence, a stand-up comic, has a jittery presence, and the two featured actresses, Tisha Campbell and A.J. Johnson, fresh from Spike Lee's School Daze, are both accomplished.

There's a dazzle of a dance scene with Reid, Martin, Campbell and Johnson; Reid and Martin cut each other effectively in a rap duel. But mostly Hudlin strands his cast in a barren script. For laughs, he relies on things like people confusing the name of the rap group Public Enemy with "public enema."

The movie is finally defensible only in terms of equal opportunity. White kids have Revenge of the Nerds; now black kids have House Party. (R)

From Our Partners