“What’s it gonna’ be like when it’s just us?”
I will say this for The House; beneath its endless charade of constant ad-libbing and high-concept farce, the film dares to poke fun at many of America’s most topical problems. Middle class families living in regal homes with mortgages they can’t afford. Unethical local governing laundering and stealing money. Boy Scout policing that comes in the shape of a lone middle-aged white male officer (Rob Huebel) ready to unholster his weapon. The House has the right idea when it comes to pointing fingers at large-scale issues set within this suburban community. As such, it should be unrelatable at worst and revealing at best. Yet this movie is neither of the two, nor is it consistently funny or the least bit cool. Rarely are these many hilarious performers enough to make such a stale comedy actually feel fresh or funny.
Alex Johansen (Ryan Simpkins) takes a college visit to Bucknell University with her parents Kate (Amy Poehler) and Scott (Will Ferrell). The campus is a good fit for her, and she thinks it could be her next chapter in life. Meanwhile, her parents focus on teaching her how to defend a pesky frat boy attempting date rape. The scene is nowhere near as exploitative as it sounds but just as humorless as you might expect. Like Alex, we shrug it off as parents uneasy with emptying their nest, all three waiting to hear back in rejection or celebration. An email comes, she’s in, a party is thrown. Kate and Scott are just thankful their daughter is head of her class and will be receiving the town’s paid-in-full scholarship. But the town hall meeting is led by crooked councilman Bob Schaeffer (Nick Kroll) who has eliminated the scholarship to help fund a pool. The Johansen’s don’t have a plan B option in place.
A bad trip to Vegas with the Johansen’s friend/neighbor Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) leads to a convincing light-bulb moment; instead of betting on the house, why not be the house? So what would happen if they opened a casino in Frank’s home? He’s a gambling and porn addict. His wife has left him and taken most of the furniture. The mini-mansion is pretty empty besides a betting computer, empty Stella Artois cans, a giant Gorilla statue in the corner. Scott and Kate join in without much reprehension, taking the extremes that devoted parents are willing to endure to facilitate their child’s dreams to an even greater extreme. However, The House has mistakenly built itself from the inside out, furnishing its layout with an excess of busybody characters and a lack of rooted reality. Andrew Jay Cohen’s film shows smarts but only acts on idiotic instinct.
As Scott, Ferrell plays another stock character who kicks and screams and borderline annoys. Why must he always yell when his body language and occasional towering cowardice are infinitely funnier? Poehler’s take on Kate transpires similarly. By and large the dynamic comedic duo fizzles altogether, showering in excess without being shoehorned in by Cohen. Mantzoukas takes the same characterization as he always has: remarkably dumb, surprisingly smart in spurts, a man-child who wants to be taken seriously. Frank is the film’s only honest individual and should have built upon him like a bearded heliocentric model. He’s a gross man and an equally outrageous character who earns the film’s farcical turn towards the likes of The Bonfire of the Vanities’ seedy conspiracy set within Scorcese’s Casino. Such a combination makes for a dull and dim movie that’d be appealing to live in its level of intellectual abandon but is also rarely funny enough to sit back and watch as it constantly cashes out on every opportunity. The House might be open, but it also swindles and misleads. I’m not buying what it’s selling.
“This place makes you crazy.”
Rating: 2 out of 5