A suburban comedy sparked to life by the teaming of comedic powerhouses Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler is nevertheless an uninspired affair lacking the laugh-count to make it truly worthwhile.
There are often moments when you watch a bad comedy with elements of a great one, and you can’t help thinking to yourself how much better it could have been. The House, unfortunately, fits perfectly as an example. Crude, slipshod, tonally uneven and occasionally laughable, the farce makes its audience try very hard to imagine their own better jokes – what director and co-writer Andrew Jay Cohen should have been doing in the first place.
Scott and Kate Johansen (Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler) are a suburban couple forced to seek radical solutions to pay for their daughter’s college tuition. After a trip to Las Vegas with their gambling addict best friend Frank (Jason Mantzoukas), a lightbulb goes off, and the parents decide to open an illegal casino to earn just enough money to cover the tuition fees with a plan to close it down quickly before the authorities find out.
The basement of Frank’s emptied-out house is then transformed into an underground casino, with a blackjack table, craps table, roulette wheel, surveillance cameras, a flashing neon sign that says “Place Your Bets” and bored neighbours invited over to be milked a few hundred grand. Things, of course, don’t turn out quite as planned – it doesn’t take long for their gambling den to become a venue for bare-knuckle boxing and cocaine binges.
The best part of the casino movie is how the illegal gambling den eventually turns into a place where people release their inner hedonists. Visitors of the casino indulge in lust, greed, cocaine and deep-rooted resentments that lead to extreme dust-ups. For example, Martha (Lennon Parham) and Corsica (Andrea Savage) resent each other thanks to a potluck dinner, so they start a violent brawl inside the gambling den.
The main problem with The House is that the movie hasn’t pushed its humour far enough. Ferrell should have been given more opportunities to release his hysteria and do something different. The half-baked jokes inevitably contribute to a tendency towards genre tropes. Poehler complements Ferrell well, but she should have been given something better to do than to pee on the lawn (that’s supposed to be one of her funniest moments in the movie). When funny actors are made running around doing not-so-funny things, it’s difficult not to start imagining our own better jokes when watching the film.
Despite the baggy script, Ferrell successfully holds the movie together with the centrifugal force in his personality. His hysteria, though suppressed, is still a great component of The House. Nevertheless, it’s undeniable that the energetic comic talent of the leading actor and actress is wasted in this uninspired Hollywood comedy.