Parents Scott and Kate Johansen (Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler) are ecstatic when their daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) is accepted into college but, after the town-granted scholarship is taken away from them, they soon realise that they are in desperate need of money to pay for Alex’s tuition. Teaming up with Scott’s best friend Frank (Jason Mantzoukas), they decide to run an illegal underground casino in Frank’s house and soon start making some serious money, developing a reputation as dangerous, deadly, no-nonsense kingpins but as shady people start getting involved, the Johansens risk losing everything.
To begin with: I’ve never found Will Ferrell funny and aside from Blades of Glory and that one episode of King of the Hill that he was in, I regrettably think of him as a comedy actor that I just don’t get. After watching The House, my opinion remains the same as he is massive dead weight in this film, struggling to illicit any laughs in the silly scenes or any sympathy in the “touchy-feely” ones and the film drags as a result of his presence. Amy Poehler fares a little better (though maybe I’m biased due to her being in the perfect Parks and Recreation) and, as an experienced comic actress, is able to pull off the comedic moments as well as she can and she definitely doesn’t lose any street cred with this film. Ferrell and Poehler are noticably mismatched; there is a distinct lack of chemistry between them and it’s difficult to believe that they’re an actual married couple. It could be said that they try their best with the substandard material but the pairing is uneven and together, they don’t deliver any credible laughs.
Jason Mantzoukas plays the third leading role and it’s admittedly satisfying to see Mantzoukas in a noticably large movie role, having delivered some memorable turns in both Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine Nine; alongside Poehler, he delivers most of the film’s energy and does the very best with what he’s given. He and Poehler work well together, leaving me to wonder whether the film could have worked better if he had played the husband instead, although that particular role would probably have been too “normal” for him. As for the rest, Ryan Simpkins is alright as daughter Alex, if a little bland and awkward when she has to literally say “I love you guys” at least twice in the movie, Fargo‘s Allison Tolman has a thankless role as a financial advisor, Rob Huebel is wooden as Officer Chandler and Nick Kroll (yet another Parks and Rec regular!) is ultimately miscast as the villain of the piece, going from okay to downright silly and idiotic in his final scenes.
Plus, they dragged an Avenger into this (you can probably guess who) and it’s clearly a glorified cameo, showing up for a few moments and then having to endure an awkward, embarrassing scene.
The House has a story that didn’t require much planning as it is your basic, common-or-garden mass appeal summer comedy that offers some “outrageous” scenes, plenty of f-bombs and the obligatory sentimentality that goes alongside the wackiness. The problem is that the comedic scenes don’t even come close to delivering enough laughs as it’s nothing that we haven’t seen before and a great number of jokes totally miss the mark – at its best, I smiled a couple of times. Plus, the accompanying sentimentality is completely fake, too easy to simply walk away from, and the overall mix of comedy and drama falls flat. The House eventually gets pretty boring, even getting to the point where, when it focuses on Ferrell and Poehler “breaking bad”, it loses track of what it’s meant to be about – the daughter going to college.
The screenplay is not terrible but still quite poor; many of the lines that the actors have to say hit the ear wrong and a great deal of dialogue feels forced, awkward and unfunny, difficult for the performers to completely sell. The subplot concerning the breakup of Frank’s marriage is ultimately unnecessary, the big climax featuring the aforementioned Avenger actor goes absolutely nowhere, and the film carries on for a few scenes too many – even though its runtime is under 90 minutes, it certainly feels longer.
It’s also hard to imagine how Frank’s casino could believably grow so quickly and so admirably, going from his deserted house to a proper kitted out, spotless, professional casino – all in his own house! Obviously none of this is meant to be taken seriously but the casino’s immense growth pushes the realms of believability, making us long for something a bit more grounded and genuine.
I had hopes that The House would be like 2015’s Sisters, another Amy Poehler comedy that I enjoyed but that particular film worked because of the electric chemistry between Poehler and Tina Fey. This film needed something like that as well as a more grounded, realistic story that Sisters had. Heck, Fey and Poehler should have played the central couple in this!