They say the House always wins. Unfortunately, that’s not the case in this hit-and-miss comedy from first-time director (and co-writer) Andrew Jay Cohen, but there are still some guilty-pleasure laughs to be had along the way.
The premise is simple. Strait-laced parents Scott (Will Ferrell) and Kate (Amy Poehler), determined not to let their daughter down, start up an illegal casino to pay for her college fees. Predictably, things get more and more out of control – from a no-holds-barred “fight night” involving their neighbours, to a showdown with a criminal boss (a cameoing Jeremy Renner).
The House is at its funniest when at its most ludicrous, with most of the big laugh-out-loud moments involving Ferrell’s use of an axe. A scene where he first attempts to “send a message” to a cheating punter pushes the gross-out to uproarious effect. However, too many of the rapid-fire jokes fall flat and the script is certainly not as hilarious as it thinks it is. Jason Mantzoukas (Parks and Rec‘s Dennis Feinstein) steals plenty of scenes as the couple’s unpredictable friend Frank, at whose home the casino grows ever more flashy and OTT. His wild-eyed loser propels the thin plot, which also includes Nick Kroll’s forgettable bad guy.
There’s a strong sense that Ferrell is just going through the motions, but he is still very good at what he does and remains eminently watchable. Equally gifted comedy performer Poehler gets her moments but sadly is somewhat sidelined towards the end.
A setup ripe for comedy doesn’t deliver the jackpot it might have done, but the scattershot screenplay is elevated by the class acts at its heart. A fun date movie, The House is no classic but it’s not a load of craps either.
CAST: Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Jason Mantzoukas, Nick Kroll, Jeremy Renner
DIRECTOR: Andrew Jay Cohen
WRITERS: Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O’Brien
SYNOPSIS: Scott and Kate Johansen can’t afford their daughter’s college tuition. So with the help of their friend Frank, also in need of a major payday, they decide to open an illegal casino in his suburban house.