Director: Andrew Jay Cohen
Cast: Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Jason Mantzoukas, Nick Kroll, Allison Tolman, Michaela Watkins, Ryan Simpkins, Jessie Ennis, Rob Huebel, Cedric Yarbrough
Release Date: June 30th, 2017
Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler can be tremendous comedic talents when given the right material. The House, their new comedy, doesn’t give them that.
The new comedy features the duo playing Scott and Kate, a married couple who open an illegal casino alongside their over-bearing friend Frank (Jason Mantzoukas). The couple believes that the casino will help them pay the college tuition bills of their daughter, whose scholarship was recently revoked by an ineffective city council led by Bob (Nick Kroll).
As the story begins, Scott and Kate are shocked to learn that their local government is using the scholarship money to pay for a new community pool. Despite that, Frank insists that they travel to Vegas with him on a pre-planned vacation. That trip inspires the trio to open a casino in Frank’s large home, which is nearly vacant because of his impending divorce (and the fact that his wife nearly took everything).
The concept works nicely but the writing duo of Brendan O’Brien and Andrew Jay Cohen (making his feature-length directorial debut) never fully take advantage of it for comedic effect. Instead, the writers settle on complacent jokes such as the running gag that Scott doesn’t understand simple mathematics. When the casino is half- full, for instance, he thinks there are eight million people in attendance. This joke, which comes up again and again, is never half as funny as the writers likely perceived it to be.
Many of the early scenes here feel like set-ups for jokes that never really work. A trip to college in the film’s opening moments with the couple’s daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) feels like it’s missing a decent punchline. The same can be said for a trip to Vegas, which goes awry when Scott says the wrong thing at a table.
After the casino launches, the script never revels in the eccentricities of the characters who show up there or the oddity of the situation. Ferrell and Poehler likely could’ve done a better job improvising silly situations for the scene on Saturday Night Live (which they appeared on together for one season) than the ones laid out here. Instead the gags about gambling quickly set up an unfunny sequence where arguments between patrons turn into the foundations of a suburban fight club.
It doesn’t help that the storyline about city government lacks any real substance. It’s odd that Poehler — who was given such rich material as a government official on Parks and Recreation — appears in a film that doesn’t take advantage of the absurdities of these local public officials.
Rob Huebel appears here as a local police officer, who seemingly works alone in this community. Because of that, there are few consequences here for bad behavior.
The third act finds a mobster eventually visiting the casino, an odd choice considering that this character seems to come out of nowhere to play a pivotal role. It likely would’ve helped for the character to be introduced earlier but instead, he feels like an unnecessary addition (despite the fact that his character is responsible for a few of the film’s biggest comedic moments).
Writer/director Andrew Jay Cohen has previously shown an ability to create humorous situations out of crazy neighborhood antics. Cohen co-wrote the screenplay for both the hilarious Neighbors and its sequel. Both of those films found a comedic groove by adding colorful characters into an otherwise quiet neighborhood. The House had the opportunity to do something similar but never manages to pull it off.
Review by: John Hanlon