The House (2017) Review
THE HOUSE DOESN’T ALWAYS WIN
Actors Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler are prime candidates for bring big laughs in both the big and small screen. Both came from appearing on SNL (Saturday Night Live) for several years, both have had major hits, and both have even starred in the same movie together. And while the two have had their fair share of being placed in mediocre films (mostly Ferrell of late), the two still prove to be a driving force within the comedy field, bringing enough star power and chuckles to the proceedings of whatever film they are starring in. Now, acting as his feature film directorial debut, film writer Andrew Jay Cohen and Warner Bros. Pictures (and New Line Cinema) present Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler in the comedy film The House. Does the movie bring the laughs or does is a comedy dud?
As high school graduate Alex Johansen (Ryan Simpkins) gets ready to attend a pricey university college, her parents Scott (Will Ferrell) and Kate (Amy Poehler) Johansen couldn’t be more excited, putting financial worries aside in the knowledge that their daughter is about to be the prime recipient of a local scholarship. However, Mayor Bob Schaeffer (Nick Kroll) is looking keep the money to build community pool complex, robbing the Johansen’s child of her education at her dream college. Devastated, Scott and Kate come to the conclusion that they don’t have enough required for Alex to attend her college, fearing the worst for their daughter’s future prospects. Luckily, their depressed neighbor Frank Theodorakis (Jason Mantzoukas) help them with their money woes, proposing the construction of an illegal casino inside his post-separation house, giving the gambling addict a chance to live his Las Vegas dreams. Agreeing to the help with the casino, Scott and Kate’s eyes are opened to the crazed behaviors of their neighbors, who partake in this underground casino setup, as the pair (along with Frank) build an intense reputation and a sizeable cash reserve. However, prying eyes, including Mayor Schaeffer and local cop Officer Chandler (Rob Huebel) beginning to lurk around the suspicious activities of the trio, sniffing out the illegal scam that’s running amok in their town.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
I’ve seeing plenty of Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler (on both the big and small screen) and I do quite enjoy their works. For Ferrell, I always loved seeing him his various skits on SNL as well as his feature film performances in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and Old School and his voice work for DreamWorks’s Megamind and The LEGO Movie. As for Poehler, I always liked her as Leslie Knoppe on the TV show Parks and Recreation as well as her voice work in Pixar’s Inside Out and her comedy team up with Tina Fey in 2015’s Sisters. Suffice to say that both Ferrell and Poehler have the right amount of comedic presences to play within their various comedy characters performances through their respective film projects.
So, it’s for that very same reason why my interest was somewhat peaked when I came across the trailer for The House. The premise seemed assuming, finding both Ferrell and Poehler as the film’s leads (playing husband and wife), and the trailer did prove effect in displaying some funny lines from the movie. Plus, it’s theatrical release was setup during the 2017 summer movie lineup, which featured mostly superhero flicks and box office bombs, but not much in comedic gold. Thus, I was hoping that The House would fill that void and claim that position of being “the funniest movie of the 2017 summer films”. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. While it isn’t a complete disaster of a movie, The House isn’t all that’s cracked up to be, even the likeable comedic talent of Ferrell and Poehler. In short, it’s just a mediocre comedy that’s only peppered with some fleeting moments of laughter.
The House is directed by Andrew Jay Cohen, who makes his directorial debut with his film. Cohen does have a background in films, especially in the realm of raunchy R-rated comedies, as a screenplay writer, with such films as Neighbors, Neighbors: Sorority Rising (also known as Neighbors 2), and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates to his screenplay credentials. Thus, it makes sense that Cohen would one day try to make a raunchy R-rated comedy, using The House as his first movie vessel to helm and testing the waters with his directorial abilities. Naturally, the film’s premise gives away for some interesting setups, with Cohen staging all the aspects of a stereotypical Las Vegas casino, including various casino tables (blackjack, craps, and roulette), stand-up comedies, a massage parlor / nail salon, an outdoor pool / lounge area as well as funny bit of a MMA “Fight Night” that involves some of the neighbors duking it out. To me, those parts were the funniest part of the movie as well as seeing the characters of Scott and Kate Johansen fall deeper into the casino / mobster angle as the film progressive forward. Also, in terms of filmmaking, The House is pretty good. It doesn’t do anything to completely “wow” me in its sets, editing, and other filmmaking aspects, but it does sustain the so-called “standard” for a comedy feature such as this. So, I guess it sort of breaks even, meaning the way how The House looks and feels (as a movie) is even-keel and on par to other similar raunchy R-rated comedy films.
As I stated, The House aims to be the next big comedy feature, but never reaches its lofty goals and just measly settles for mediocre. To be truthful, the entire movie is your standard fare for the comedy genre, hitting a lot of the familiar beats, plot devices, and even a formulaic path that reaches its predictable conclusion. It also doesn’t help that the comedy is mostly “hit or miss” throughout the film. Yes, there are some funny bits that do work (both sight gags and raunchy jokes), which will produce a few chuckles when get delivered, but the rest of the comedy aspect is mostly bland and sometimes unfunny. Personally, I laughed a few times, but not as much as did with some of last year’s comedy hits like Bad Moms and Office Christmas Party.
Of course, it doesn’t help that the main narrative of The House is pretty thin. Naturally, its premise is quite interesting and a perfect setup for such talented character actors like Ferrell and Poehler to play around with, but there’s really “no meaty” on this bare bone storyline. I’m not expecting something hard-hitting or dramatic with its story / writing, but it wouldn’t help if there were more substance or even a light underlining theme / message. To be honest, the film’s plot of a couple setting up an illegal underground casino in a neighborhood for their daughter’s college fund seems more like a plotline for half-hour comedy sitcom (i.e. something short, sweet, and can be completed within a 22-24-minute episode. Thus, Cohen’s efforts of striking comedic gold with The House is greatly hampered by the film’s flimsy story outline, its lackadaisical writing, and mostly unfunny material. All in all, when watching The House, you get a great sense that this is Cohen’s first outing in directing a feature length film. Good ideas, but just not handle well and in desperate need of “more” in writing department.
With the movie’s premise fun (but nothing great) and its writing is bland as well as its hodgepodge of comedy, Cohen makes The House tailored made for both Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler as an entertainment vehicle for the pair to drive the film forward with their comedy delivery and their improvisations talents. While I’ve already mentioned their well-known performances and comedy styles, The House finds both Ferrell and Poehler in likeable roles as both Scott and Kate Johansen. Thanks to their comedic talents of timing and delivery, both have their moments in the movie that elevate the film’s weak script, especially during the third act as Cohen, who also co-wrote the script with Brendan O’Brien, seem to run out of steam as well as ideas for the film. Thus, giving that notion about the movie’s script being more on the limp side, the characters of Scott and Kate aren’t given much depth or personal growth in the film and both Ferrell and Poehler aren’t exactly breaking the mold from what they’ve done before. However, both comedic actors do what they can with their roles (having fun and sharing a good on-screen chemistry with each other) and are probably the highlight of the feature of this otherwise average comedy flick. In short, if Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler weren’t attached to this project, then The House would be boring and mundane.
The House’s supporting cast is likewise up for the task, but are, more or less, largely unmemorable, with either very little to do and / or don’t make a lasting impression. Probably the most likely character to stand out is Frank Theodorakis, who is played by Jason Mantzoukas. Known for his small / supporting roles in various TV / movie projects including How to be Single, The League, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Mantzoukas, much like Ferrell and Poehler, has a humorous screen presence as well as his improvisation delivery, which shows within his character of Frank. However, Frank (as a character) is pretty much a thinly caricature that pushes the whole casino angle to the Johansen forwards; dragging Scott and Kate deeper into this illegal underground of casino owners. There’s even subplot on why he turns his house into a gambling casino, but its superfluous to the main arc of the story and gets dropped really quickly. So, if Mantzoukas’s Frank is the best supporting characters (flaws and all), then the worst would have to be the character of Alex Johansen, who is played Ryan Simpkins. While Simpkins, known for her works in Revolutionary Road and A Single Man, isn’t bad in the movie (her acting talents are fine), but her character seems more like an afterthought. She’s important in the first ten minutes in the movie and then disappears for huge chunks of the movie, despite being a vital importance to the film’s plot. Cohen even tries to setup an interesting subplot with her relationship with her parents (Scott and Kate), but even that falls flat and gets somewhat dropped by halfway through the film. It would’ve been interesting to see the character of Alex play a more integral part of the movie’s narrative. Thus, Simpkins’s Alex is largely unmemorable and almost forgettable in The House.
The other supporting characters in the movie are mostly made up of Scott and Kate’s neighbors / other fellow citizens that are roughly one-note players and leave little to no impression, serving only to flesh out the whole casino aspects and their participating in this illegal world of a suburbia casino. This mean that most have one or two scenes to have their “spotlight”, but then are mostly forgotten. The only two that makes any type of impression is the city’s crooked Mayor Bob Schaffer, who is played by Nick Kroll (The League and Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie) and the bumbling attempts of police officer Chandler, who is played by Rob Huebel (Children’s Hospital and The League). Lastly, and this is the most awkward part of the movie, actor Jeremey Renner, known for his roles in The Town, Hurt Locker, and his appearances in the MCU superhero movies as Clint / Barton (Hawkeye) plays a local crime mobster named Tommy. While Renner’s acting is not question, his character comes completely out of left field and his story arc in the movie barely registers, lasting only seven to eight minutes in the film’s runtime. Its awkward scene and acts more like gratuitous cameo for Renner rather than an important part of The House’s narrative.
Ferrell and Poehler team up (along with Mantzoukas) to pull off an underground casino in suburbia in the film The House. Andrew Jay Cohen makes his directorial with this feature, finding its premise to bring the most laughs as well as recognizable comedic cast to rouse up a few chuckles. Unfortunately, due to its lazy writing, uninteresting character developments, and hit or miss comedy, the movie’s banks too much on its thinly written plot to sustain comedic greatness, which ultimately makes The House a mediocre endeavor that really doesn’t bring anything new to the comedy genre table. Personally, I thought the movie was pretty “meh”. Yes, there were some moments that were pretty funny in the movie, just not a whole lot. So, my recommendation for this movie is probably just to skip it. There are some elements to sustain people who like the actors involved to watch this movie, but, and this is a personally opinion, you would be better off just watching one of their other movies. Thus, at the end of the day, The House isn’t a bad or awful movie…. just a frustrating and disappointing one.
2.5 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: June 30th, 2017
Reviewed On: July 5th, 2017
The House is 88 minutes long and is rated R for language throughout, sexual references, drug use, some violence and brief nudity