Director: Andrew Jay Cohen
Cast: Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Jason Mantzoukas, Nick Kroll, Alison Tolman
Release Date: 30th June
Running time: 88 minutes
Casting beloved SNL alums Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler as co-leads in a comedy seems like a sure bet. But the latest film from the creators of Bad Neighbours belies the idiom that The House always wins.
Squeezed middle-class couple Scott (Ferrell) and Kate (Poehler) face a financial crisis when their daughter Alex’s college scholarship falls through. Their friend Frank (Mantzoukas), a seasoned gambler, suggests making the tuition money by running an illegal casino from his house. Wild debauchery ensues as their friends and neighbours turn a home into a thriving House; but Scott and Kate soon find themselves facing off against the local law enforcement, government, and gangsters.
Firstly, these are the lowest stakes of all time in any movie ever. The film’s hysterical emphasis on Alex being doomed if she doesn’t go to college lacks the self-awareness to be funny. Even if another character had said that not going to college isn’t the end of the world – or asked, what if she just worked for a couple of years first; or took out a student loan? – only to have their common-sense shot down by the Johansens, it would have been better than the line that not going to college means you’ll end up as a ‘banged-up cocktail waitress’ living at home at 40.
Also, rhetorical italicised question time: they have no contingency for Alex not winning the scholarship? They just assumed she would get it? There aren’t any other good students in this affluent ‘burb? Look, these are things I’d let slide if this film was really funny or technically competent. It’s neither.
Some of the physical comedy is passable, but not the best we’ve seen from leads Poehler, Ferrell or Mantzoukas. Will Ferrell’s latest schtick of playing a gentle giant who, late in life, has to toughen up, is starting to get tired, despite his superlative performance style. Similarly, despite a few moments of breaking bad, Amy Poehler’s talent is squandered on the big screen yet again. (Sisters, anyone?) However, the alter egos of ‘The Butcher’ and ‘The Burner’ adopted by the couple provoke some easy laughs; just enough to leave us wanting more of them.
Mantzoukas’ standard dishevelled mania works well here, while Nick Kroll, Alison Tolman and Rob Huebel hint at their comic prowess. However, good performances can’t compensate for a weak script and the sheer technical ineptitude on display. Timing is everything in comedy, and The House is off-beat in the least appealing way. A lot of the verbal jokes play like statements of fact, which is not helped by the abrupt cuts leaving no time for them to land. The film also attempts clumsy jokes about government corruption and police brutality; subjects I can only assume were funnier on paper. The film feels like a first draft, filmed and edited into a first cut, and then abandoned. Indeed, given that the cast is a desperate couple and their hapless man-friend, I wonder whether a lot of this is abandoned Bad Neighbours material.
I did appreciate that, at a neat 88 minutes, The House is comfortably 25-30 minutes shorter than a Judd Apatow improv-love-in. Amazingly though, it manages to feel just as long; and just as lazy about shaping its set pieces and jokes into a coherent story.
The House is much like a casino: you might go in feeling lucky but ultimately this is a horrible garish waste of everyone’s time and money.