'House Party 2' is an upbeat, insightful sequel

KID AND PLAY DO IT AGAIN

October 23, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

They could still shoot "Die Hard" in Kid's hair, that high, high tower of teetering protein that advances his identity, to say nothing of his profile, into the stratosphere.

And Play still has the hustler's smiley patter down as pat as butter on toast.

But Kid's hair and Play's patter aren't the only natural wonders on display in "House Party 2": an antic spirit, a concussive humor and a surprisingly insightful agenda are three others. And the chief wonder is that "House Party 2" joins the small list of sequels that are actually better than their original (Yes, if you stick around, I will name the others, all two of them.)

The plot is as vapid as the old college rousers of the mid-'30s, those idiotic fables of higher ed usually starring Dick Powell, Sonny Tufts and a raccoon coat. It's a hierarchy of inanities -- Kid leaves his tuition check with pal Play who gives it up to a con-woman, thus forcing Kid and Play to put on a pajama party to raise the cash -- but it's a serviceable platform to reinterpret the materials from a new perspective.

The perspective, of course, is black. And in a way that not even the great Spike Lee has really managed, the movie is a playful yet piquant examination of the black condition as it encounters its own intellectual traditions and mainstream culture in the crucible of a college campus.

Oh, yes. The music really hops.

It appears to me that Kid (Christopher Reid) and Play (Christopher Martin) have worked out the subtle issues of their partnership somewhat more efficiently than the last time through. As the partnership has stabilized, Kid is the dreamy Stan, somewhat ethereal and innocent, somewhat sweet. Play is the Ollie-man, worldly, a conniver, a cynic, more dynamic, but lacking that innocence that is so appealing in Kid.

And Martin Lawrence, who starred in Topper Carew's "Talking Dirty After Dark," is almost the third member of the duo, as Bilal, a hanger-on not quite cool enough to hang with the chief homeboys.

But as directors Doug McHenry and George Jackson have it, as Kid tries to survive at "Harris University" (the reference is the late Robin Harris, who played Kid's father in the first film) he keeps ramming into some real problems faced by young black men in college.

The first is personified in Georg Sanford Brown, who, while teaching a course in black history, demands that his students, particularly his black students, approach it with the utmost in discipline. When it turns out that Kid doesn't know as much about Malcolm X as his white roommate, Kid is in deep water.

Then there's the spirit of political correctness, as represented by Kid's girlfriend's roommate Zora (Queen Latifah, a formidable presence), who seems to insist that all interactions be governed by strict political rules, but ultimately helps both Kid and his girlfriend see that what is right isn't what she says is right, but what they feel is right.

The movie advances by high road and high jinks. It's great fun.

("Road Warrior" was better than "Mad Max" and "Aliens" was better than "Alien." Score 10 points for each correct answer; if you scored 50 or more, you are much smarter than I am.)

'House Party 2'

Starring Christopher Reid, Christopher Martin and Martin Lawrence.

Directed by Doug McHenry and George Jackson.

Released by New Line.

Rated R.

***

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