First Word: Today is Will Ferrell’s 50th birthday so I went to see his latest film The House. You could probably make a mildly amusing SNL skit out of the idea behind The House. A full-length movie? Not so much. It’s safe to say that no one wins big in this decidedly unfunny comedy, which marks the directorial debut of Neighbors writer Andrew Jay Cohen.
Synopsis: Ferrell and Poehler play Scott and Kate, two middle-class suburbanites who are about to send their daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) off to college. But when town councilor Bob (Nick Kroll) announces there are no funds for a community scholarship Alex was set to win, the couple decide on another way to pay her tuition: they team up with their down-on-his-luck friend Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) to build an illegal casino in Frank’s basement. 5/10
Characterization: The characters are so poorly defined they could barely fill a five minute SNL sketch. Scott’s sole characteristic seems to be his ineptitude with numbers. Kate has even less going on. And the supporting cast – which includes Rory Scovel, Kyle Kinane, Michaela Watkins, Lennon Parham and Cedric Yarbrough – is a comedy lover’s dream, but they’re all wasted in groan-worthy gags. As anyone who’s ever seen Parks and Recreation knows, Poehler is a comedic treasure, who frankly should be on our screens much, much more often. Ferrell’s movie track record might not be stellar as of late, but when he’s at his Ron Burgundy best, it’s easy to forget his less successful efforts like Get Hard and Daddy’s Home. Kroll and Mantzoukas, meanwhile, were both great on The League. The point is, if you’re a fan of any of these hilarious people, you’d have hoped that together they could deliver at least a handful of chuckles. 4/10
Cinematography: Instead of a script, Cohen lavishes attention on the casino’s production design and the increasingly outlandish duds that Scott and Kate sport as they become successful casino operators. The House is a montage-heavy flick that thinks overt nods to Casino, The Sopranos and Terminator 2 are enough to garner giggles. A hip hop heavy soundtrack can’t liven things up, and neither can YouTube-like sketches or a big-name cameo in the final act, no matter how much the movie tries to prove otherwise. 5.5/10
Conclusion: At one point in The House — immediately after the main trio ponders “what if we were the house?”, in case the premise wasn’t already clear — a character makes a speech about clichés. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do anything to make the ones in the film any less obvious or infuriating. It’s never a good sign when a movie’s best moments come during the obligatory over-credits blooper reel, as viewers are left to wonder why the stuff that did make the cut was so routine and uninspired. Maybe the producers made a bet that they could squander their cast with as bland a so-called comedy as possible? If that’s the case, then they’ve really hit the jackpot.
Final Score: 4.8/10