To say that House Party is a drive-in movie for teenagers doesn't convey its many charms. For starters, when was the last time you saw black teens portrayed as anything other than thugs or bland sitcom jokesters? Reginald Hudlin's effervescent comedy pins down specifics of slang, dress, and attitude, but otherwise these middle-class kids are just kids: The movie's practically radical in its normality. It had minor success in theaters; if it doesn't hit on video it will be evidence that the mass (i.e., white) audience simply doesn't want to know.
The plot's lifted straight from an Archie comic: Rappers Kid 'N Play are two high-school buddies planning a big blowout while dodging parents, bullies (rap group Full Force), and assorted party crashers. If you want to take the metaphor further, Veronica and Betty are represented by Sharane (A.J. Johnson), a sweet but opportunistic ''project girl,'' and her level-headed friend Sidney (Tisha Campbell). There's even a Jughead in the party's goofy deejay (Martin Lawrence).
But all that ignores House Party's real strengths: The dance numbers have amazing snap, the humor is infectiously silly, and Kid (Christopher Reid) is one of the most likable new faces to hit the screen in years, a star from frame one. Despite his mile-high hairdo (his dad mutters that he looks like ''a young tree stalk''), Kid's no cartoon: He's thoughtful, smart-mouthed, honorable, horny, full of life, and slack-jawed at the cards the world keeps dealing him.
But for all the whimsy, the movie has dark borders. A single shot of one character's family sullenly watching TV tells you everything you need to know about this ''project girl.'' Likewise, the only white characters are the two buffoonish cops who stop and harass every black they meet. But Hudlin and company acknowledge reality only to dance all over it: They even deliver a safe-sex message without blowing their cool. House Party has teeth, but it's having too good a time to bite down. A