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
Runtime: 1 hr 28 mins
Rating: NC16 (Coarse Language and Some Violence)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Official Website: http://www.thehousemovie.com
Opening Day: 29 June 2017
Synopsis: After Scott and Kate Johansen (Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler) lose their daughter Alex’s college fund, they become desperate to earn it back so she can pursue her dream of attending a university. With the help of their neighbor Frank (Jason Mantzoukas), they decide to start an illegal casino in the basement of his house.
We love Will Ferrell, but boy does ‘The House’ suck. To be sure, Ferrell has been somewhat on a downward streak of late with 2012’s ‘The Campaign’, 2013’s ‘Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues’ and 2015’s ‘Get Hard’, chalking up a string of duds that made us sorry for the gifted comedian. Unfortunately, his latest from the writers of the wickedly funny ‘Neighbours’ and ‘Neighbours 2: Sorority Rising’ takes that streak to a new low – not only is it almost bereft of laughs, it is so lazily written and incompetently directed that you wonder why Ferrell and his equally talented former ‘Saturday Night Live’ star Amy Poehler even bothered.
Outrageous as their high-concept movie may sound, Brendan O’Brien and Andrew Jay Cohen actually play it very safe by sticking close to the winning formula of their previous duology. In place of Seth Rogen and Leslie Mann’s new parents is Ferrell and Poehler’s Scott and Kate Johansen, who are confronted with the imminent prospect of an empty nest when their beloved only daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) goes off to college. In place of obnoxious next-door neighbours is the threat of Alex losing out on her university education, which similarly forces our typically gentle, benign couple to respond in extraordinary ways. And last but not least, like ‘Neighbours’, the actions of our lead couple will ultimately disrupt the quiet suburban neighbourhood in which they live in, in turn getting into the crosshairs of local law enforcement.
To take Scott and Kate from begging their respective bosses for pay raises and applying for a bank loan to setting up an underground casino is Jason Mantzoukas’ Frank, their no-good neighbour whose gambling addiction has led to an impending divorce with his wife Raina (Michaela Watkins). After Scott and Kate gamble away what little they had in their bank account intended for Alex’s studies, Frank convinces them to turn the rule of the casino in their favour by simply being the house; and of course, Frank’s luxurious two-storey mansion whom Raina had recently moved out of just happens to be conveniently available to set up their not-quite-so-legal den. If it all seems to come together too quickly and too easily, it does – one moment Frank is pitching his eccentric idea to Scott and Kate; the next, he has it already all set up, including roulette tables, chips, croupiers, cash-counting machines, safes behind the wall and even stand-up comedy routines to keep his guests entertained.
Rather than exploit the comedic possibility of how three ordinary people could organise an entire gambling enterprise, Cohen, who makes his directorial debut here, prefers to let his audience laugh at Scott and Kate behaving badly. One running gag has them getting high and/or drunk, including a particular scene where a clearly inebriated Kate relives her college days by peeing openly on her lawn in the middle of the night. Another running gag has Scott and Kate pretending to be Italian mobsters a la ‘The Godfather’ or ‘Casino’, adopting nicknames ‘The Butcher’ and ‘The Burner’ suiting their weapons of choice, i.e. an ax and blowtorch lighter respectively, as they track down and threaten patrons who have taken lines of credit and owe them money. At least the former is reasonably believable; the latter however goes completely off the rails, especially as Scott, Kate and Frank conduct their harassment in broad daylight no less with few repercussions.
That Scott and Kate come off behaving illogically and incoherently is a result of poor scripting and worse direction – how the former will go from being traumatised after accidentally cutting off the middle finger of one cheating patron to brandishing an ax like a mafia gangster is hardly explained; ditto how both father and mother land up spending more of their time at Frank’s house than with Alex before she goes off to college. In fact, the whole movie seems to be pieced together from haphazardly thought-of bits – a scene hinting of possible tension between Scott and Frank, given how the latter seems to make business decisions unilaterally, amounts to nothing; an extended cameo by Jeremy Renner as a fierce local thug seeking revenge on Scott is wasted in an unfunny sequence that mistakes mutilation and immolation for humour; and a subplot involving a corrupt city councillor Bob (Nick Kroll) who withdraws the town’s scholarship for Alex and siphons the town’s money for his own personal amoral gain is essentially superfluous, not least because it seems to serve no other purpose than to give the film an additional ending just in case Renner wasn’t available to shoot his scene.
It is frankly little consolation that Ferrell and Poehler have great deadpan chemistry next to each other – after all, there is only so much that both, despite their considerable improvisational comedy skills and an excellent supporting ensemble, can do to save a witless script. As much as it pains us to say it, Ferrell is yet again wasted in a movie that does no justice to his talents, and even depletes some of his audience goodwill. Given their short but bright track record with the ‘Neighbours’, it isn’t difficult to guess why Ferrell decided to bet on Cohen and his co-writer O’Brien; pity then this ‘House’ is no winner, not just a losing hand but literally and figuratively a complete bust.
(Even with two comedic aces Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler, this lazily written and shoddily directed 'House' is no winner)
Review by Gabriel Chong