Starring: Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Jason Mantzoukas, Ryan Simpkins, Nick Kroll, Rob Huebel, Allison Tolman
Rated R for Language Throughout, Sexual References, Drug Use, Some Violence and Brief Nudity
"The House," a title as boring as the film itself, is an example of a modern Hollywood comedy: a threadbare plot, dumb gags, and a bunch of actors/stand-up comedians being awkward and constantly riffing on things that are supposed to be funny. Thank you, Seth Rogen.
Scott (Ferrell) and Kate (Poehler) have a problem: their daughter Alex (Simpkins) just got accepted to Bucknell University and the town scholarship they were relying on to send her there has been taken away to pay for a new pool. Out of options and out of luck, Scott and Kate go on a trip to Vegas with their deadbeat, soon-to-be-divorced, gambling-and-porn addicted friend Frank (Mantzoukas) for a reason that, considering their financial trouble, makes you realize why they got themselves in this situation in the first place. After losing a bet that would have made their troubles go away (which would mean no movie, something that would be too much to hope for), Frank tells them that "the House always wins." Then Scott wonders why they can't be the house. So Frank cooks up an idea that will earn them enough money to pay for Alex's tuition and save Frank from foreclosure: running a downstairs illegal casino.
I try not to judge a movie's quality based on its premise. I mean, look at "Star Wars" or "The Lord of the Rings." But you have to admit, this is a pretty limiting idea for a comedy. Worse, it plays dumb at every turn. Details on how this all works are scarce, and fewer jokes are made about it. There are no jokes regarding the need to keep it a secret. There's definitely material to play around in here had the filmmakers bothered to write a real script instead of relying on the actors' improvisational abilities. It's always painfully obvious when this happens, since it results in the actors saying their lines "funny" or running their mouths with no point to what their saying. At best, it's weird, and at worst it's painful. "The House" contains examples of both.
Regarding Will Ferrell, James Berardinelli put it best in his review of "Semi-Pro:" When it comes to comedy, Will Ferrell is a Jekyll & Hyde. When he's 'on,' he's hilarious, but when he's off, he's like a drunk at a bar yelling loud, unfunny jokes at his equally inebriated buddies. And while those guys may laugh at him, they're the only ones...As a comedian, Will Ferrell is at his best when working with a funny screenplay. His seat-of-the-pants improvisation comes across more as weird than hilarious (he has a tendency to drag out effective comedic material too long)." Substitute "weird" with "painful," and you'd have my thoughts on Will Ferrell work for word. Actually, that's my problem with Seth Rogen and all the other Frat Packers. Unfortunately, directors use him as a crutch, believing that anything he says or does will save them from actually having to work. No one more so than his good buddy from SNL, Andy McKay, who was responsible for Ferrell's most painful movies, "Anchorman" and its sequel, "The Other Guys," and a few others I won't bother to mention. And what do you know, both McKay and Ferrell are listed as producers of the movie.
His cast mates are given even less to work with. Poehler is similarly lost, relying strange voices and funny faces to save what has gone on for far too long. Jason Mantzoukas looks and acts like a cross between a stoner and a pedophile. He constantly comes across as tweaked out. Ryan Simpkins does her best to create a character worth caring about as the only one in the film displaying actual human behavior, but she's drowned out by the desperate antics of the rest of the cast. Nick Kroll plays the obligatory sniveling jerk perhaps too well; he's like a bug I wanted to squash. The rest of the cast isn't worth being listed by name since they're so forgettable.
Movies work best when they keep it specific and detailed. "The House" is just a lazy cash grab banking on the names of Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler.