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 Bad Neighbours writer Andrew Jay Cohen. Not stars Amy Poehler, Will Ferrell, Nick Kroll and Jason Mantzoukas, and definitely not the audience.
Poehler and Ferrell play Kate and Scott Johansen, proud parents to college-bound teen Alex (Ryan Simpkins) — until a town-sponsored scholarship falls through, that is. When their recently-separated gambling addict pal Frank (Mantzoukas) suggests turning his home into an illegal casino to cover Alex's tuition fees, they're wary. But helping their daughter pursue her dreams soon wins out, even with a suspicious local cop (Rob Huebel) and city councillor (Kroll) wondering just what it is they're up to.
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 mightn't 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 funny folks, you'd have hoped that together they could deliver at least a handful of chuckles.
On paper, it doesn't seem like much of a gamble. Sure, watching middle-aged suburbanites behaving badly doesn't sound particularly new or exciting, but skilled performers can make anything better, right? Yet, in a breezy, montage-heavy flick that thinks overt nods to Casino, The Sopranos and Terminator 2 are enough to garner giggles, there's little they can do. 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.
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.