Directed by: Andrew Jay Cohen
Premise: In an effort to pay their daughter’s college tuition, financially strapped parents (Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler) create an underground casino in a friend’s (Jason Mantzoukas) suburban home.
What Works: The House is intended to be a comedy and when the jokes land they really do work. The House has an absurd premise. The filmmakers know that and when they’re riffing on gangster pictures like Casino the movie manages moments of comedy underlined by a dark subversive streak. The star of the show is Jason Mantzoukas as the troubled friend of the financially beleaguered parents and the homeowner of the casino. Mantzoukas has many of the best lines in the film but he also possesses an empathetic quality that his co-stars lack.
What Doesn’t: Among the problems with The House is that the film rarely commits to its central conceit. The casino sequences are amusing but this is a one-joke movie: wouldn’t it be funny if someone ran an underground casino out of an unassuming household in a quiet suburban neighborhood? That’s a good idea but it does not seem as though anyone involved in making The House thought about the premise any deeper than that. This is a movie with basically one joke and at best it’s intermittently funny. The tone is way off. The House often has the feel of a television sitcom. This is the episode in which the parents try to solve their problem with a hair-brained scheme only to have it blow up in their faces. Anyone who has watched television in the last thirty years can see where this is going. And just like a sitcom there’s no stakes or consequences to anything. This kind of insipid storytelling is bad enough on television but it’s even worse in what is supposed to be an R-rated feature. The sitcom style of The House clashes with its vulgarity. The movie has some crude humor and it incorporates the violence of gangster pictures like Casino and Goodfellas. The goal seems to be satire but the filmmakers never reconcile the suburban sitcom elements with the vulgarity or the violence nor do they juxtapose those elements in a way that’s funny. For that matter, it does not seem as though the filmmakers of The House even bothered to finish the script. The story makes no sense and it has no shape. The body of the film is an arbitrary series of events; there’s no rising action and the story isn’t working toward its climax. There’s intrigue involving the local city government and late in the movie actual gangsters show up but the filmmakers handle everything so clumsily that the story feels utterly random. The slapdash nature of The House is especially evident in the cast who spend a lot of their time improvising as a way of padding out the movie. The House only runs a meager eighty-eight minutes but it feels much longer than that. The job of stalling the end credits falls to Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler. Neither Ferrell nor Poehler have ever proven themselves as stellar actors but they are especially terrible in The House. A lot of their bits are indistinguishable from the outtakes in the end credits and their performances are more like an improv set that’s gone dry. The married couple are stupid and awful people and neither Ferrell nor Poehler engender any sympathy for their characters. The parents are ostensibly running this gambling operation out of love for their child but it doesn’t feel that way. In fact, their daughter (Ryan Simpkins) is frequently a point of pity. She is going off to college and actually wants to spend time with her parents but the grownups spend their nights at the casino and she is stuck at home or spends time with high school friends that the movie infers she doesn’t even really like. Instead of being joyfully loony or subversively mean, The House is just cruel and depressing.
Bottom Line: The House is a sloppy piece of work that is never more than sporadically funny. There is an edgy and subversive idea here but it’s watered down to a (barely) feature length sitcom episode with especially lousy turns from Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler.
Episode: #656 (July 16, 2017)