‘The House always wins.’
Except…when it really, really doesn’t.
Such is the case with The House, the latest tired frat comedy from Brendan O’Brien and Andrew J. Cohen, writers of the Bad Neighbours films and last year’s Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, with Cohen in his directorial debut. This one teams the admirable and winning talents of Amy Poehler and Will Ferrell as Scott and Kate Johansen, parents of Alex (Ryan Simpkins), who turn their neighbour’s basement into an illegal casino to raise enough money to send their daughter to college.
To be fair to O’Brien and Cohen, this is at least a relatively intriguing premise to hang together the tropes so common to its genre. A check list of scenes even. Add to that the talent on screen and their is potential here. Nick Kroll plays Bob, a dodgy City Hall councillor, who kickstarts the plot by denying Alex the much needed scholarship that will take her to collage in favour of an extravagant public outdoor swimming pool. ‘The scholarship,’ he says, ‘is an indulgence that the town can no longer afford’ in a scene played for comedy but more painfully resonant of real life.
It is when on a trip to Las Vegas with hopeless family friend and gambling addict Frank (Jason Mantzoukas), who also happens to be in denial over his impending divorce from Raina (Michaela Watkins), that Scott and Kate realise the financial potential of running a casino of their own. ‘The House always wins’ says Frank.
From here, the script pretty much writes itself. O’Brien and Cohen cherry pick from their own back catalogue and the works of others alike as Scott and Kate find themselves increasingly at ease with their criminality. Cue drunk suburban adults (who should know better) frittering their money away through party scenes, shots of Poehler and Ferrell throwing money around, the basement casino rapidly turning into a Gatsby-esque set up…and so on. All of this has been done before, that’s not the problem. The issue is that it’s all been done better before.
At best, I just watched The House. At worst, I wished I hadn’t. Poehler and Ferrell are so inherently entertaining as performers that it’s possible to actually hear the beats of their comedy timing coming through their line delivery, even when those lines just aren’t funny. The House isn’t totally devoid of chucklesome moments but is predominantly just very, very flat. ‘What happened to your car?’ That’s the set up. ‘I can’t find it.’ That’s the punchline. Nope, not a clue.
Indeed, the dearth of material through the film ensures that sequences of drunken antics aren’t the only instance in which Poehler and Ferrell are wasted here. Perhaps it’s the writing but it is hard too not to escape the feeling that the pair don’t exactly fizz together either. Sisters had a similar set up but there the experience managed a degree of fun on the basis of the ongoing effervescence of Poehler’s chemistry with Tina Fey. There’s very little of that in The House.
This one’s just a floater on the market.