The House, 2017.
Directed by Andrew Jay Cohen.
Starring Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Jason Mantzoukas, Nick Kroll, Ryan Simpkins, and Jeremy Renner.
Forty somethings Scott and Kate Johansen (Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler) are proud that their daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) is going to college. She’s done so well that she’s getting a scholarship from the council to cover her tuition fees – except that it’s pulled due to budget cuts. Neither of them can raise extra money from their employers, but friend Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) comes up with an idea that could be the answer to their financial problems, as well as his. Open up a casino in his basement.
A flurry of outtakes at the end of a film, especially when it’s meant to be a comedy, are never a good sign. There’s always the lingering suspicion that the makers know only too well they have a dud on their hands. But when those outtakes are actually funnier than the film itself, a mournful bell begins to toll and the tumbleweed drifts across the screen.
Good comedies have been thin on the ground this year and the arrival of The House shows that we’ll have to carry on waiting. On paper, it looks promising, with Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler as the headliners and a premise that involves them raising money to pay for their daughter’s college fees by opening a casino. OK, it’s illegal, but their hearts are in the right place. But when a decidedly drunk Poehler is caught short and has to make use of her own front lawn, you get the feeling you’re watching exactly what the movie has done to her and Ferrell.
You may feel a twinge of sympathy for them, but from their performances they seem to know what’s happening all too well. They try desperately hard to be funny, certainly harder than they usually would, but with a script like this they don’t have much choice. In fact, they try so hard it makes you squirm and, presumably at the director’s insistence, they also telegraph what are meant to be the gags and go so far as to leave a pause afterwards for the laughter. Except all they get is silence. They must have taken the money and ran like hell.
The idea behind the film isn’t a bad one and the dilemma over college fees is familiar enough, even if the solution here is far-fetched. But this isn’t a film rooted in reality and its execution is dire, even when the casino moves up a class from just a basement to the luxury outdoor pool. It even attracts the attention of a local mobster – a very awkward Jeremy Renner in a cameo we’d rather forget. Added to that, there’s some tasteless stuff involving digits being chopped off and a whole lot of blood. There’s a solitary glimmer of hope when a joke about Bill Murray raises a laugh. But that’s your lot.
When the outtakes are the best part of the film, you have to ask yourself whether you want to stump up your cash simply to watch them. It makes for an expensive few minutes. The makers of The House have gambled and lost. And this is one house that doesn’t win.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★