Mark Reviews Movies

The House


˝ Star (out of 4)

Director: Andrew Jay Cohen

Cast: Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Jason Mantzoukas, Ryan Simpkins, Nick Kroll, Allison Tolman, Rob Huebel, Christina Offley, Jessie Ennis, Rory Scovel, Lennon Parham, Cedric Yarbrough, Kyle Kinane, Michaela Watkins, Gillian Vigman, Steve Zissis, Jeremy Renner

MPAA Rating: R (for language throughout, sexual references, drug use, some violence and brief nudity)

Running Time: 1:28

Release Date: 6/30/17

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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 30, 2017

One wonders at what point everyone involved in The House simply gave up on the project. There are bad comedies. They can be bad, despite the obvious effort for laughs. Because of the wrong tone or a cruel attitude, they can also be bad. There are plenty of reasons a comedy can be bad, but for the most part, at least you can tell that people—or even just a couple of people—involved were trying. Here's a movie that appears to make no effort at all, except to make sure that the cast showed up in front of the camera. There are times at which we're not entirely convinced they managed that, given how randomly edited certain scenes are.

Here's the thing: There are a lot of funny people in front of the camera. Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler play Scott and Kate Johansen, a married couple who want their daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) to go to college but discover they can't afford the tuition. After a trip to Las Vegas with a friend, they start an illegal casino in their neighborhood to make the money.

Their perennial-loser friend Frank is played by Jason Mantzoukas, who might be the only actor on screen who appears to want to be there in every scene in which he appears. He's not funny in the movie, but it's far from his fault. Like everyone else, he has nothing with which to work. To his credit, there's never a moment in which we suspect he's waiting for the camera to stop—maybe eyeing the nearest exit from the set during the shoot or planning what to have for dinner later.

Frank is a gambling and porn addict. The first addiction is important to the plot. The second doesn't matter, except that either the screenwriters (Brendan O'Brien and director Andrew Jay Cohen) or whichever actor mentioned pornography during a bit of improvisation (It's either Poehler or Ferrell, and if I did remember which one, I wouldn't name him or her, because it's obvious neither one wanted to be here) thought it might earn a cheap laugh.

That's the only kind of laugh anyone goes for in the movie. That's lazy enough. This movie achieves a special kind of lazy, because it never even commits to the cheap laughs.

The jokes are tossed out with little concern for timing or basic execution. There's a moment in which Scott, Kate, and Frank have to come up with an excuse for why people are gambling in Frank's house. They come up with it being for charity, and then each one proceeds to make up some charitable cause. It's a standard joke—a group of people lying at the same time and caught in their lie because they didn't figure it out ahead of time. The way the joke is done here, Scott says something, then Kate, and then Frank, with a beat in between each one. This means Kate and Frank have heard Scott's lie, but then they say something else entirely anyway. This isn't difficult stuff, yet Cohen can't even get something this simple correct.

Naming some of the other cast members almost feels unkind at this point. You'll likely recognize some of the faces of the casino's patrons. In terms of plot, Nick Kroll plays a town councilman who denies Alex her town-funded scholarship so that a new pool can built. He's also stealing money to pay for gifts for his mistress, the town treasurer (played by Allison Tolman). Looking into the casino, there's a buffoonish cop (played by Rob Huebel), who goes from ready-to-kill to polite to trigger-happy without any reason, save that somebody remembered that excessive police force has been in the news for a while.

Everyone's an idiot here—but not in a funny way. Scott cannot do simple math, recognize numbers, or even count. Kate's slightly better, although even she mistakes their retirement account for a balance of money within it. The central joke, if there is one, is how the milquetoast Scott and Kate become quite adept and even violent (There are two scenes in which blood shoots out in a geyser from where accidentally severed body part used to be), albeit in the numbskull way that can be milked for more easy and ineffective jokes, in their management of the casino. We can tell because the movie expects us to laugh at the fact that they're dressed nicely.

It's easy to suspect that a lot of improvising happened on the set. It seems likely, considering that The House is essentially a one-joke premise, stretched well past its breaking point and leaving a lot of funny people looking embarrassed and regretful.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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