2017 | rated R | starring Will Ferrell, Amy Pohler, Jason Mantzoukas, Nick Kroll, Allison Tolman | directed by Andrew Jay Cohen | 1hr 28mins |
Studio Pitch: Will Ferrell and Amy Pohler together at last on the big screen.
I suppose their are people out there who have been breathlessly waiting for a big screen team up by Will Ferrell and Amy Pohler. I’m not even sure how they will take The House. For me, the big marquee pairing of a past-his-prime Ferrell and Pohler without the Parks and Recreation writers behind her sounds like an exhausting prospect. And the first act of this movie is exhausting, with Ferrell and Pohler mugging it up as the overbearing parents and assuming best friends of their daughter who now worry about an empty nest as she goes off to college. Because Ferrell’s Scott Johanson put love into the college fund instead of money (that’s a line in the movie) they’ve relied on a scholarship the city counsel gives out but has now been spent by a crooked town councilman (comedy plague Nick Kroll) on a community pool.
Desperate to raise quick cash the Johansons,…well, don’t come up with an idea, but piggy back on the idea of their manic, gambling, self-destructive neighbor Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) to turn his house into a secret casino. The movie doesn’t come to this easily, requiring a set-up that involves a trip to Vegas, Frank’s divorce and every attendant of the town city counsel meetings to bring this goofy idea to fruition. A more self-conscious director would have kept this thing lighter on it’s feet. It is a weird choice for so little of the creation and design of this plan to be from Ferrell and Pohler’s characters. They have a shocking lack of agency in this movie, taking a backseat to Mantzoukas at almost every turn while he walks them through how the casino will work, where the money will be kept and how it will be kept a secret from the prying eye of the only cop in town (Ron Huebel). Ferrell and Pohler are at the top of the marquee but The House actually seems to work around them.
The middle section of the film is actually quite fun. The casino is a hit and the two parents rapidly take to the lifestyle of casino bosses who shake down their neighbors for cash. Playing like a theme episode of Community, it starts escalating the casino motif to an absurd level, turning the Johansons into Robert DeNiro and Sharon Stone in Casino and building every Vegas trademark it can think of inside Frank’s house. The movie’s best jokes are tucked in here and they’re almost throw-aways. The House, however, firmly stops short of Anchorman surrealism, preferring to thread the casino story through a distractingly dull subplot with Kroll as the dogged public official who becomes obsessed – for unknown reasons – with shutting down this casino like a college dean going after a frat house in an 80s sex comedy. If director Andrew Jay Cohen (who shoots this thing like a gritty Jason Bourne movie at times) wasn’t so worried about making the movie make sense when it doesn’t need to and tightened up the story with what it did well we might have had something here.
Both Ferrell and Pohler are, more often than not, two performers who are only as good as the material they’re given. The House is mediocre material. It’s not bad, it’s not great. Ferrell’s movies usually come with a debate about how tolerant we are about “dumb comedies”. It isn’t dumb comedies I don’t like, I really like them, what I don’t like is broad comedies and this stuff is very, very broad. The oafish guy with the wife that has had enough of his antics. The bumbling dad who is bad at math. The cool parents. Easy mobster parodies. Business men doing cocaine. Jokes about balls. Like all of these movies, it also has a cartoonish, Hollywood view of suburbanites where they’re all just lame, uncool soccer moms and dads whose plastered on smiles mask dysfunction and repressed anger. Yawn.
Cohen previously co-wrote a movie that is very reminiscent of this one: Neighbors. Now there is a “dumb comedy” that certainly isn’t broad and succeeds in about every way that this one falls flat. In Neighbors there was a cliché-busting dynamic between Seth Rogen and Rose Bryne’s married couple where neither was the proverbial straight man. That Cool Couple dynamic generated from Bryne’s natural comic charm and Rogen’s natural ability to create chemistry with any co-star. The House tries desperately to re-create that same Cool Couple dynamic, but Pohler’s character is underwritten and the chemistry isn’t there. Instead just come off like two actors, speed up on wacky fuel trying to out-do each other for more screen time.