2017, R, 88 mins.
Amy Poehler as Kate Johansen / Will Ferrell as Scott Johansen / Ryan Simpkins as Alex Johansen / Cedric Yarbrough as Reggie Henderson / Andrea Savage as Laura / Andy Buckley as Craig / Rebecca Olejniczak as Hot Poker Dealer / Steve Zissis as Carl Shackler / Natasha Key as Meg / Jason Mantzoukas as Frank
Directed by Andrew J. Cohen / Written by Cohen and Brendan O'Brien
There's a scene
in the new comedy THE HOUSE that features a deranged Will Ferrell wielding
an axe while threatening to hurt a compulsive gambler that was caught
cheating while at his own home run underground casino.
I couldn't decide
whether I should have found this positively hysterical or positively
That yo-yo effect
is probably the best way I can describe the entire process of watching THE
HOUSE, which contains a premise with great potential for high hilarity and
social commentary, not to mention that it features a relative cinematic
dream-team of Ferrell and Amy Poehler, who haven't shared the screen
together since 2007's BLADES OF GLORY.
The two stars have demonstrated themselves to be limitlessly
amusing and highly game on screen buffoons that have no problem shedding
egos and making themselves look foolish to score big laughs.
But the main problem with THE HOUSE - directed by NEIGHBORS
screenwriter Andrew J. Cohen, making his feature film directorial debut -
is that it rarely makes ample and proper usage of its star assets, mostly
because the film feels like a series of sometimes amusing, sometimes flat
skits than it does a fully fledged movie comedy.
Considering the players involved, THE HOUSE rarely achieves zany
momentum and hilarious lift-off.
The arc of the
film, though, is spirited enough, even though its strains modest credulity
(more on that in a bit). Ferrell and Poehler star Scott and Kate respectively, a
couple of loving, but fairly dimwitted parents that become elated when
they realize that their teenage daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) has just
been accepted into a very prestigious - and very expensive - college.
Thankfully, the parents feel fairly secure in knowing that money
will not be an object, seeing as Alex is set to be awarded a lucrative
town scholarship. Unfortunately,
the town mayor (Nick Kroll) decides that the scholarship money would be
better suited to be put towards community endeavors...like a costly new
outdoor swimming pool. Morally
devastated, Scott and Kate realize that they have next to no money to send
their daughter to college...and can't bare the thought of telling her the
truth about their financial situation.
At their absolute
wit's ends, the bumbling parents seek out assistance from Scott's
depressed, alcoholic, and soon-to-be-divorced pal Frank (Jason Mantzoukas),
who proposes a fiendish, if not completely outlandish scheme to secure all
of Alex's college money over the course of the summer: They will convert
Frank's home into a lavish casino that will give every desperate gambling
addicted town resident an opportunity to spend all of their money there.
Using the credo "the house always wins," Frank, Scott and
Kate decide to embark on this Hail Mary of a financial plan, and within no
time money begins to pour in at the expense of the fanatical behaviors of
their neighbors. Unfortunately,
a pesky local cop (Rob Huebel) begins to smell something afoul and coaxes
the mayor to find out what the trio are really up to.
Of the few
pleasures to be had while watching THE HOUSE I will say this: Watching
Ferrell and Poehler share the screen together is an initial hoot and
treat, to be sure. They bring
a commendable amount of committed tomfoolery to their respective parts,
and their easy going chemistry and absolute willingness to do or say
anything to achieve chuckles is noteworthy. Ferrell in particular, as he has established throughout his
entire career, can play idiotic losers better than anyone (he plays them
so much it's cliché for him at this point, but he's so good at it that
criticizing him for it seems redundant).
Very few actors could make gags involving, for example, confusing a
401K retirement fund with actually having $401,000 - during one riotous
scene dealing with a trip to his accountant - unexpectedly funny.
Then there's the aforementioned scene later in the film - during
which time Scott has fully morphed into an intimidating criminal thug that
would put the bosses of Martin Scosese's CASINO to shame - that has Scott
accidentally chopping off a cheater's finger with an axe, with geysers of
blood being sprayed all over the shocked and dismayed dad turned mobster.
Only Ferrell could make shocking scenes like this work.
comedic weapon of THE HOUSE, though, is Jason Mantzoukas' loveable schlub
Frank, whose immediate reaction to Scott's axe wielding antics are
pricelessly timed and rendered. That, and he brings another layer of droll cluelessness to
the film that compliments the madcap stupidity that his co stars bring to
the table as well. The
supporting cast is also fine, if not a bit inconsistently lopsided when it
comes to winning our immediate affection.
Nick Kroll is perfectly slimy as his unscrupulous mayor, and Rob
Heubel generates a few guffaws in the largely throwaway and perfunctory
role of the clumsy town cop with something to prove to everyone.
There's also a recurring gag between two women of the town that
have a predilection to verbally trash talking each other rather publicly
that culminates in the casino's first fight club.
Yet, the main
issue with THE HOUSE is that its premise of down on their luck
suburbanites needing to fund their daughter's education by starting a
secret casino could have been the stuff of hilarious satire.
Any attempts at working towards some economic and social commentary
here are null and void, mostly because Andrew J. Cohen favors chaos and
rampant hard-R rated debauchery more than anything else here. When
you think about it, the notion of parents so financially devastated that
they have to resort to what Scott and Kate do would have made for a
hilarious comedy that taps into working class guilt and sorrow, but Cohen
is more compelled to unleash F-bomb riddled improvisational wackiness
through scene after scene that never really finds its comedic groove.
More often than not, for every moment in THE HOUSE that's genuinely
funny there are about five more that land with a thud, which is not
assisted by how the film awkwardly edits scene transitions to the point of
being a hatchet job. Jokes
and pratfalls can't work when a director cuts away from them so
haphazardly fast that it gives no time for the audience to respond.
You also know you're in trouble when comedies have to desperately
resort to 25-year-old TERMINATOR movie references and little old ladies
using foul language to win over our affection.
THE HOUSE also
has other logical inconsistencies, like, for example, why the parents just
don't re-mortgage or sell their house and downsize to cover the cost of
college...but then...yes...we inconveniently wouldn't have a movie about
them creating a casino in response to economic hardship.
Granted, trying to find earthbound logic in a Will Ferrell comedy
is a fool's errand. Ultimately,
I've always maintained that the best movie comedies are well oiled engines
that systematically and consistently delivery laughs.
THE HOUSE kind of fails that litmus test and is essentially a tone
deaf comedy that squanders its stellar ensemble cast.
Ferrell in particular also looks like he's visibly straining to
make scenes of nothingness work here, and this film is indicative of a recent comedic cold streak for him (aside from ANCHORMAN
2 and the underrated CASI DE MI
PADRE, he hasn't had a solid comedy this decade).
The house, as they say, always wins, but audiences will, no doubt,
be the losers while watching this.