“The House” has Poehler and Ferrell but zero laughs
★555 Comedy. Rated R. 88 minutes.
“The House” is astonishingly, mystifyingly unamusing. With Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler in lead roles, the comedy could have been solid counterprogramming to summer franchise-mania. Instead, director Andrew Jay Cohen (“Neighbors,” “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates”) delivers one lazy sketch after another, manufactured under the misguided pretense that lewdness and violence are inherently funny.
But it takes more than buckets of fake blood and alfresco bathroom adventures to produce laughs.
There’s a mildly sweet story hiding under all the body fluids. Ferrell and Poehler play Scott and Kate, a couple whose lives revolve around their only child, Alex (Ryan Simpkins), a recent high school graduate. Alex plans to head to her dream school in the fall, though she doesn’t realize that her parents can’t afford it. In one of many illogical plot points, Scott and Kate were banking on a scholarship that their small town awards each year. Alas, the cash doesn’t pan out.
Their best friend, Frank (Jason Mantzoukas), is also in a financial bind. Facing foreclosure, he needs money fast, so the three devise a scheme to open a gambling den in Frank’s roomy abode. Since the house always wins, they reason, they’ll make loads of cash off their suburban neighbors, who are clearly desperate for a thrill. Once the underground casino takes off — and Frank adds fight night, massage tables and a Hard Rock-caliber pool party — Scott and Kate start embracing the criminal life.
Cohen and Brendan O’Brien are credited with writing the screenplay, but it’s hard to imagine what they gave the cast beyond the vaguest of outlines. The dialogue has the feel of amateur improv, which is strange considering the many talented comedians involved, including Rob Huebel, Nick Kroll, Michaela Watkins and Sam Richardson. Even the outtakes at the end are lame.
The height of the movie’s comedy is a recurring bit that Scott doesn’t understand numbers. When he receives the first $50,000 bill from Alex’s new college, he panics, screaming, “$5 million?!” It’s the kind of joke that usually comes with a laugh track.
The direction is no more artful. Shot like a sitcom with editing that highlights the bizarre pacing, the movie goes all in on montages to advance the story.