The House, 2017.
Directed by Andrew Jay Cohen.
Starring Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Jason Mantzoukas, Nick Kroll, Ryan Simpkins, Allison Tolman, Rory Scovel, Rob Huebel, Michaela Watkins, Cedric Yarbrough, Lennon Parham, Jesse Ennis, Alexandra Daddario, and Jeremy Renner.
A dad and his friend start an illegal casino in his basement after he and his wife are robbed of their daughter’s college fund.
It’s safe to say that expectations for any Will Ferrell comedy should fall somewhere in the absurdist realm, but here with Andrew Jay Cohen’s The House (also a writer on both Neighbors movies), everyone is operating so far removed from the real world, that it’s like watching a live-action cartoon. For every logistical inconsistency and nonsensical plot decision, it quickly becomes easier and easier to look the other way and roll with the loony tone like a pair of winning dice. It’s essentially a send-up spoof of Casino as much as it is another formulaic comedy starring the notable comedian.
The key ingredient to its passing grade is without a doubt the sheer madness that goes on in the illegal underground casino that Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, and Jason Mantzoukas all collaborate on starting up in Jason’s basement. Also, this is one of those movies where there’s no point writing about characters by any name other than the actor that portrays them, so keep that in mind. Anyway, the goal for Ferrell and Poehler is admirably to pay off their daughter’s college tuition hiding from her the truth (the town essentially screws the family out of it), while Mantzoukas thinks that such an endeavor will win back his girlfriend. He has a serious problem with hygiene, but more importantly a gambling addiction, so his line of thinking is that if he becomes the house itself, there is no addiction. Although everything that goes on here is against the law and morally gray in some area, it’s a definite positive that the leads are likable with reasons to cheer on their shady operation.
In an effort to raise money, the trio end up starting a fight club (complete with competent and hard-hitting fisticuff choreography), accidentally chop off the finger of a mobster rendering them an establishment not to be fucked with (watching intimidating individuals cower in fear in front of Ferrell is actually hilarious), and naturally find themselves in hot water with law enforcement (although it sure does take a bafflingly unrealistic amount of time before the cops figure it out). Just about all of the chaos that goes on in this casino (including the ridiculous owners attempting to dress sharp) is realized with inspired lunacy; even if you know what’s coming, the execution is still surprising.
For example, The House surprisingly has two graphic scenes of bloody violence that elicit major laughs. This movie does not give one fuck about grounding itself in reality or dealing with consequences, setting up an anything goes vibe that works in conjunction with just how stupid the movie is. How is spending a ton of money on an underground casino to make cash possible but not simply paying off the tuition? I stopped giving a damn about the answers to questions like this simply because the jokes frequently hit and came at a rapid pace. That’s without even spoiling the terrific cameo from an Avengers star.
Also, for as energetic and outlandish as Will Ferrell is, it’s Jason Mantzoukas that winds up stealing the whole movie, matching and surpassing his co-star in every way. His blindly optimistic yet dimwitted personality come together to create a loveable idiot. He and Ferrell have wonderful chemistry often evoking the same brand of humor, and should definitely team up for another comedy together.
Outside of the titular house, however, Cohen struggles with finding footing for the comedy, often relying on having Ferrell and Poehler behave loud and obnoxious. Much of the dead air involves lame, lazy sexual humor such as a drunk Poehler pissing on their front yard. It’s in these moments that you’ll definitely wish for the film to head back to the casino as quickly as possible. In general, Poehler probably could have been given better material, but she does develop her own deadly trade alongside Ferrell’s butchering of cheaters. There’s also one too many characters in the mix, as Nick Kroll plays a crooked City Hall councilmember more interested in his own personal gain and love affairs. The whole conflict adds an unnecessary amount of secondary players that have very little to do, amounting to nothing in the grand scheme of things. At least there is an amazing Terminator homage during the climactic showdown.
Furthermore, unlike most modern comedies, The House is relatively short at 88 minutes, when most are bordering on two hours for absolutely no reason. The latest Adam Sandler Netflix creation actually pushed past two hours, which is just unholy. This movie seems to have a grasp on what works and what doesn’t as it tries to stick to the underground casino for the duration of its running time, getting in and out telling its cliché and predictable story. The house does indeed always win, even if the rewards here are slim at best.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★