By Jack Dignan
A film with an opening day embargo is usually a very bad sign. A film that doesn’t hold any screenings at all is even worse. The latest Amy Poehler/Will Ferrell comedy, a matchup that appears to have been made in comedy heaven (if such a place exists), is all sorts of awful. It’s a film that benefited from having a projector malfunction halfway through. The screen went dark for a solid five minutes, and it was, without a doubt, my favourite five minutes of this entire movie. The competition is getting tough for films trying to make it into my 10 Worst Films of 2017 list, and The House is yet another really strong contender.
The general gist of The House is a premise I don’t actually mind, all things considered. Comedies rarely go for a grounded and realistic plot. It’s not how they work. Things need to be spiced up a bit, and that’s exactly what happens here. We focus on happily married couple Scott and Kate Johansen (Ferrell and Poehler, respectively). Their daughter, Alex (Ryan Simpkins), has made it into the college of her dreams, promised to get in through a scholarship run by city councilman Bob (Nick Kroll). But Bob can’t afford the scholarship this year, and the money promised is spent elsewhere. Alex is disappointed, and that’s something Scott and Kate can’t live with. To maintain the illusion that they know what they’re doing as parents, they decide to get the money elsewhere, and it may just be the worst decision of their lives.
With the help of washed up gambler and longtime family friend, Frank (Jason Mantzoukas), the three decide to start a secret underground casino to raise enough funds for Alex to go to college. It’s a premise I easily got behind. There are some serious stretches of the imagination, particularly in a scene where Scott and Kate are denied a lone because… reasons, but the stupidity is put in full force without any attempts at hiding it. The film is aware of how idiotic it is, which should make for some seriously funny moments, but alas, it does not. Small, timid chuckles come and go throughout, but none of the jokes feel all that memorable, even when delivered by a slick backed hair, women’s sunglasses wearing Will Ferrell.
Ferrell and Poehler are comedic powerhouses. They’re forces of nature, unmatched by most, so a re-teaming of their talents should’ve led to an instantly funny movie. Yet it doesn’t. The two have comedic chemistry, previously appearing together in Saturday Night Live and Blades of Glory, and they deserve a much better movie than the one they’re in. It’s idiotic, boundary-pushing humour that fails to push said boundaries and lacks the necessary raunchiness a film like this needs. It gets lost in its self-inflicted mayhem. Jokes are drawn out to tedious lengths, hoping to find something funny by stretching it out as long as possible, and surprise-surprise it never works.
A scene where Will Ferrell accidentally chops a gambler’s finger off shows the film heading in the right direction, but ultimately amounts to very little. It allows for a transformation of character, and a development of Scott and Amy’s potential-brimming alter egos, but the gag itself doesn’t follow through with the early appearance of comedic capability. Most of the time, this film has its head in the right place. It stems into so many different plot elements that should work and should easily entertain, but ends up dragging a joke on well after it’s dead. As my friend pointed out during the screening’s black out period, where all we were left with was audio, listening to the script without visuals really does bring the forefront just how poorly written this movie is.
It’s not just the script that sucks though; it’s almost everything else, too. Performance wise, everyone gives it their all, which always makes watching these types of comedies just that little bit extra bearable, but ultimately, the characters and the story lack enough depth to make it all worthwhile. Andrew Jay Cohen, screenwriter of both Bad Neighbours movies, makes his directorial debut with this film and you can feel it. It’s a series of wide shots and pop songs, executed in the most clichéd way possible. Having a double feature of this and Baby Driver really brings into the spotlight the simplicity and short cuts a lot of modern comedy directors take, and sadly, The House will be added to that list.
There’s a good movie hiding somewhere in the midst of whatever this is. It’s a movie that’s funny, original, a little bit bonkers and has more of Amy Poehler firing a flamethrower down into a casino while laughing out loud. Unfortunately, The House is not that movie. It’s only part of that movie, replaced with an unstructured blob of a film that wastes its talented cast and continuously detours around its ripe, patiently waiting potential.
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