If anyone could have saved THE HOUSE, it would have been Amy Poehler and Will Ferrell. Theirs is a deliciously insouciant sense of comedy delivered with deadpan sincerity that can make the most of anything tossed their way. And so it is with THE HOUSE, a raggedly written story with a creaky plot that no amount of WD-40 can remedy.
They are Kate and Scott, proud parents of Alex (Ryan Simpkins), a bright girl heading off to a pricey college in the fall. Until the scholarship they were counting on falls through, that is. With a shaky financial profile, but a great deal of motivation, they turn a disastrous trip to Las Vegas with their hygiene-challenged best friend, Frank (Jason Mantzoukas), into the sort of hare-brained scheme that is the stuff of farce. They will turn Frank’s house, conveniently empty now that his wife (Michaela Watkins) has left him, into an underground casino that will make enough to cover Alex’s tuition.
It starts promisingly enough before devolving into an increasingly lackluster series of montages, threadbare jokes, and an homage to Robert De Niro in CASINO by Ferrell that comes close to actually working. It also takes a hard left turn into violence that is neither broad enough, nor clever enough, to make the transition. Okay, using a soft-serve frozen yogurt machine as an instrument of intimidation has its charms, and the light in Poehler’s eyes a she wields a butane torch is a thing of wonder. As is Jeremy Renner who pops up late in the game as a mobster seeking justice for one of his minions.
The supporting cast, Ron Huebel as the local cop just smart enough to (eventually) figure out that something’s up at Frank’s house; Allison Tolman and Nick Kroll as city council members with more than Robert’s Rules of Order on their minds; Jessie Ennis and Lennon Parham as bored suburbanites whose angst has bubbled over into something lethal are all dead-on portraits of upper-middle class malaise. In fact, the entire film could have been so much sharper in its consideration of that, and the satire that could have been rankles.
As is the case in so many films, the product placement is a running irritation even more ubiquitous than Scott’s inability to do even the simplest of arithmetic propositions. While the latter eventually pays off, the former does not, though I couldn’t help noticing that the elegant and dainty necklaces all the women in the film wear seem to be from the same company, though I didn’t see any mention of what that concern might be, and this is odd because it was easily the most tempting of any of the placed products.
THE HOUSE is a silly bit of nonsense that is, in the long run, fairly harmless as vacuous attempts at comedy go. Plot holes abound, character development is the biggest joke going, and the waste of serious talent is criminal.