2017, R, 98 min. Directed by Andrew Jay Cohen. Starring Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Ryan Simpkins, Jason Mantzoukas, Nick Kroll, Michaela Watkins, Allison Tolman, Jeremy Renner, Rob Huebel.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 7, 2017
This luckless movie takes an axe to the old saw: The house always wins. Even though everything about this project probably looked good on paper, upon completion The House comes up snake eyes.
Headline top comic performers Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler star in a contemporary comedy about parents who open an underground casino in order to raise money to pay for their daughter’s college tuition. Automatically, the enterprise sounds like a shoo-in for success. Add in a screenplay by Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, co-writers of Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates and the successful Neighbors films starring Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne, and the project continues to look good, even when tossing in the unknown factor of this being Cohen’s directorial debut. Anyone who remembers the dud that was Date Night, which co-starred comedy titans Tina Fey and Steve Carell and was directed by Night at the Museum helmer Shawn Levy, knows the wobbly wisdom of betting on sure things. Instead of catching fire, The House just sits there collecting dust and mold.
The torn-from-the-headlines premise about middle-class parents who are financially unable to send their child (Simpkins) to the college of her choice gets obliterated by this film’s unbelievable mechanics. Scott (Ferrell) and Kate (Poehler) team up with their gambling- and porn-addicted friend Frank (Mantzoukas) to open a casino in his house, which has been stripped bare (except for a couple of items, including a disturbing John Wayne Gacy-like clown painting) by his divorce-seeking wife (Watkins). Once the casino is installed, the house somehow grows in size to also accommodate a comedy cellar, boxing ring, pool, and spa. Despite solving the on-street parking problem, it seems the neighbors might still object to the inevitable and persistent noise problem. Furthermore, the house manages to rake in a ridiculous half-million dollars from their suburban friends in a matter of weeks. Complications ensue in the form of a slimy councilman (Kroll), Kate’s reignited pot addiction, and Scott’s transformation into the operation’s enforcer. Casual violence suddenly invades the film’s comic tenor, and with it raises the stakes for the film’s carefree enjoyment. Add to these affronts cliched slo-mo shots of paper currency fluttering through the air, along with an otherwise undistinguished visual look, and The House comes tumbling down. The only entity that benefits from this movie is Bucknell University, which despite its “unaffordable” tuition gets name-checked more often than a Kardashian sister.