UK Release Date: 30th June 2017
Runtime: 88 minutes
Director: Andrew Jay Cohen
Writer: Jeremy Haft, Eddie Gonzalez, Steven Bagatourian
Starring: Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Jason Mantzoukas, Ryan Simpkins, Nick Kroll, Allison Tolman, Rob Huebel
Synopsis: A pair of cash-strapped parents join forces with an unstable neighbour to set up an illegal casino in order to raise the funds for their daughter to attend college.
Is it that time of year again? Are we due another limp Hollywood improv comedy? With the tedious predictability of a Donald Trump gaffe comes The House, in which a selection of screenwriters have come up with a comedy premise and then cast a series of talented performers in the hope they can adequately milk its potential. Unfortunately, as with the likes of Office Christmas Party and How to Be Single, to name but two, all of the talent in the world cannot save a half-baked idea with worse execution. This is perhaps the nadir of the trend popularised by the likes of Judd Apatow. Maybe they should have improvised a plot instead, written it down, given it to the actors and asked them to perform it.
Scott (Will Ferrell) and Kate (Amy Poehler) are determined to help their intelligent daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) get the chance to go to college. However, council boss Bob Schaeffer (Nick Kroll) takes away the scholarship they were going to be given, in order to fund a swimming pool for local residents. Struggling to pay for Alex’s tuition, Scott and Kate join forces with recently separated neighbour Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) to start up an underground casino in order to make money quickly. The operation becomes very popular and soon draws the attention of organised crime.
There’s just nothing funny in The House. Its central conceit is at least mildly amusing on paper and the talent is definitely there, but the script simply lacks the necessary wit. This is a film that too often leans on route one humour and hopes that the mere sight of straight-laced Ferrell committing crimes proves to be hilarious. It doesn’t. The House also features plentiful scenes of the kind of comedy violence and gore that is supposed to be incredibly subversive and funny, but instead just comes across as crass and cheap. In this world, nothing is funnier than actual bodily harm.
There’s a definite sense of wasted talent in The House, which packs in an enviable roster of comedy performers. Ferrell and Poehler have nice chemistry and would work magic in a better film, while Nick Kroll would have been a nice addition were it not for the fact he’s playing the worst cliché of bureaucratic evil. Jason Mantzoukas, best known to some for Brooklyn Nine-Nine and to others for the How Did This Get Made? podcast, is the comedy MVP of the film, but that’s rather like being the serial killer on Death Row who has only murdered three people rather than a dozen. His manic energy at least suggests he’s enjoying himself, rather than just waiting for the money to land in his bank account.
The House is plotted in just about the laziest way imaginable. If you were to pause the film after 20 minutes, you could almost certainly sketch out everything that will unfold in the subsequent hour. It’s a dismally uninventive story from start to finish, with nothing that creates surprise or raises the pulse at all. By the time one of the crappy, bottom-tier Avengers turns up for a one-minute cameo, you’ll have completely checked out and started putting on your coat.
You can try to enjoy yourself when watching this film. You can try to convince yourself the jokes are funny. You can pretend that the likeable performers are good enough. You can imagine a world in which this silly concept is enough to push it through. You can even try thinking of other things, like your tax return, your mortgage, your ex-partner or the trip to B&Q you’re planning for the weekend. You can try whatever you like to make the time tolerable but, as the adage goes, The House always wins in the end.
Pop or Poop?
If there’s any justice in the world, The House will spell the death knell for this sort of lame, cheap improvisational comedy movie. However, in a world that has given us Trump, Brexit, a movie career for the least interesting member of One Direction and the baffling popularity of The Only Way is Essex, I’m not holding out much hope.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.