Much has been said about the state of comedy at the multiplex nowadays. According to Deadline, there hasn’t been a true live action comedic hit since last summer’s Central Intelligence and that numerous comedic releases since then have underperformed or outright bombed. Just a few weeks ago Rough Night, which I enjoyed, didn’t click with audiences and before that, Baywatch (another film that isn’t the abysmal failure that critics labeled it) failed to recoup its $60 million budget on the domestic front. I’m not sure why comedy isn’t really hitting it at the box office but last weekend’s latest comedic entry, The House, doesn’t change the latest dismal trend for comedic endeavors. Despite two top notch comedic leads and a premise that could reap laughs, a lot of it feels lazy and uninspired. I felt especially disappointed because I had high hopes but left with very few chuckles.
In the film, Will Ferrell plays a suburban dad who realizes he can’t afford his daughter’s college tuition. He and his wife (Amy Poehler) are shocked when the town trades its scholarship fund for a new communal pool. Thanks to the quick thinking of their gambling-addicted, recently-separated pal (Jason Mantzoukas) they scheme to raise the money quickly with an underground casino in his empty split-level house.
Comedy should ensue with a premise like this but the laughs are few and far between, considering the talent involved. Watching the by the numbers community let its hair down — and occasionally raise their fists — has its moments. But director Andrew Jay Cohen is unsure whether he wants to play this material realistically or just grab at every possible gag until he sees what hits. It isn’t that the talented and funny cast can’t land a joke, it’s just that the movie is all over the place.
Side characters like a baddie town councilman (Nick Kroll) and his secret fling (Allison Tolman) have some very funny moments, but many of the set pieces feel forced and like they were shoehorned in because they could tell the laughs weren’t coming fast enough. They get a laugh but it feels detached from the film itself. The central problem is Ferrell and Poehler’s underwritten characters, who behave like caring parents one minute and complete morons the next. I don’t blame them one bit. They are capable of selling comedy and making a situation like this work but the writing fails them. Their transition from responsible adults to parents who lack brain cells is a bit jarring and it’s because the screenplay doesn’t sell the transitions and comedic beats well enough.
There is a satirical bent to some of the sequences (Casino & other Scorsese inspired efforts to seem to be up for grabs here) but they’re never as funny as they could be. At 88 minutes, the film feels overstuffed with ingredients that many on set probably thought would work but it doesn’t result in something that is cohesive. I did laugh a few times (oddly enough a man burning to death is the funniest thing in this film, something you have to see to believe) but it ultimately doesn’t warrant the film with a recommendation. At the end of the day, this a movie that proves that the house doesn’t always win.
Reel Talk gives The House 1.5 Reels