The House (2017)
88 min., rated R.
“The House,” a comedy starring Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler, was not screened in advance for press and had a short time in theaters after underperforming commercially, and now having seen it, it’s easy to see why. A theoretical R-rated comedy that seemed to have been written as it went along and then just improvised, “The House” is that rare dud with funny people that proves magic doesn’t just materialize without a good script, an adept director guiding the ship, and sharp editors. Needless to say, it has none of the above. It’s just flimsy, slapdash and, worst of all, not that funny.
Loving married couple Scott (Ferrell) and Kate Johnansen (Poehler) have it all, but empty-nest syndrome is about to set in. Their teenage daughter, Alex (Ryan Simpkins), has just been accepted to Bucknell University. Trouble is, the full-ride scholarship the town awarded to Alex is being taken away so the community can get a pool, and Scott and Kate didn’t seem to have a financial back-up plan to pay for Alex’s college tuition. After a Las Vegas trip where they gamble away all their money with recently separated, gambling-addicted friend Frank (Jason Mantzoukas), the two are convinced by Frank to run an illegal underground casino in his house since his wife (Michaela Watkins) took all of the furniture. In his pitch of this asinine scheme, he promises that they can make four years’ tuition in a month. As their casino grows into a debaucherous hangout and these mild-mannered suburbanites become the always-winning house—gangsters with no problem enforcing their neighbors who owe them money—comedy gold does not ensue.
Debuting director Andrew Jay Cohen, a writer on the first two “Neighbors” films and 2016’s “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” who co-wrote the script with Brendan O’Brien, doesn’t have a premise that inspires much confidence for a feature-length movie (a “Funny or Die” sketch, sure), and he just seems to be letting his cast strenuously shoot their comedically spontaneous wads at the wall and see what sticks. Perhaps the casting of Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler as a married couple seemed like it would be enough, but their characters of Scott and Kate are barely-there; neither one is ever seen working and Scott’s main personality trait is that he gets anxiety from math, even simple math. These comedians are talented improvisers, but even they can only do so much, and the same goes for Jason Mantzoukas, Nick Kroll, Rob Huebel, Michaela Watkins, Lennon Parham, Allison Tolman, and Andrea Savage.
There are throwaway non-sequitur moments that exist in ‘The House” without a solid foundation holding those moments together, and they are just few and far between. The tone is also off, swinging from loose and goofy to mean-spirited and absurdly depraved, and the pacing from scene to scene is so lightning-fast without any progression that it wouldn’t take a former script supervisor to realize the film was botched and severely cut in the editing bay. The third act escalates to such a loopy and ridiculously contrived level, and yet has one laugh involving a crime boss (Jeremy Renner) being set on fire, but as even more violence happens, it seems to forget it’s supposed to be a comedy. Save for a precious few chuckles that sneak in, “The House” never wins as a woefully forgettable waste of time and talent.
Grade: D +
Grade: D +