Last year’s House Party, a sleeper hit produced and directed by Warrington and Reginald Hudlin, wasn’t just a black update of the usual Hollywood teen flick. It had flair and wit, with jokes that came spiraling forth in happy cascades. Set in a sassy community of middle-class high schoolers, and featuring the exuberant rappers Kid ‘N Play (who proved to be ace comedians), the movie celebrated the deliriously knowing, tongue-in-cheek spirit of contemporary black style as expressed in language, fashion, music, dance. House Party’s emblem might have been Kid’s outrageous, gravity-defying hairdo, which suggested the comic shock of someone gazing into a mirror and doing a double take at his own identity. (That may be an appropriate reaction on the part of talented young black performers who’ve suddenly bucked the odds and made it big.) At the same time, the Hudlins revealed how the down-and-dirty exuberance of today’s black teenagers fits into the larger pattern of American youth culture.
Regrettably, the Hudlins — who are now making a new picture with Eddie Murphy — had virtually nothing to do with House Party 2. This new movie was codirected by Doug McHenry and George Jackson, the successful team of independent producers who were behind Krush Groove and New Jack City. McHenry and Jackson obviously know a fair amount about packaging successful movies, but they’re amateurish director, and House Party 2 is a disappointingly slapdash sequel. Kid (Christopher Reid) still has his charisma, pop-eyed stare — he looks like a cross between Bart Simpson and Tom Hanks — only now he’s off to college, where the fun, apparently, is over.
As Kid struggles to adjust to such activities as speaking in class (one of the few funny sequences is his impromptu discourse on Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man), Play (Christopher Martin) filches Kid’s scholarship check and tries to use to make a demo record. The movie wants to be a comic portrait of young blacks torn between responsibility and the urge to party. There are a few good ideas, like having Kid room with a white homeboy (played by a rapper named Kamron) who’s more ”black” than he is.
The jokes, though, are mostly feeble put-downs, and Harris University — a nod to the late Robin Harris, who played Kid’s father in the first film — never comes alive as a setting. Even the climactic ”Jammie Jam” feels like a throwaway. This shoddily edited rock-the-house sequence is just an excuse to showcase starlets in lingerie — and besides, the camera angles are better on Club MTV. It’s a measure of how badly McHenry and Jackson have miscalculated that, after having recruited the terrific rapper Queen Latifah, they then cast her as Zora, a humorless feminist zealot who attempts to raise the consciousness of Kid’s girlfriend (Tisha Campbell) by telling her, in essence, to keep her pants on. The filmmakers are obviously trying to do their bit for ”entertainment.” But didn’t they realize that Zora sounds just like the politically correct version of a ’50s prom chaperone? C