Will Ferrell is a funny person and he has delivered some great comedic turns in movies such as The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Step Brothers. Likewise, Amy Poehler has proven herself to be a particularly witty presence in movies (Baby Mama) and on television (Parks and Recreation), yet somehow neither of them are able to breathe any life into the stultifying so-called comedy that is The House, a movie that emerges as nothing more than a tedious waste of time. Helmed by first-time director Andrew Cohen (who co-wrote the screenplay with Brendan O’Brien), The House fails to generate any laughs in its entire running time and given the fact that Cohen and O’Brien also wrote Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates and both of the Bad Neighbours films, perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, the actors can only be as good as the material allows and, in this instance, Ferrell and Poehler have been let down by a script that reeks of desperation in its bid to pry laughs from a scenario that actually seems prime fodder for fun, but somehow misses the mark at every opportunity.
Poehler and Ferrell play Kate and Scott Johansen, proud parents to university-bound daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins), but when a town-sponsored scholarship falls through, Kate and Scott find themselves looking for ways to raise the required funds. The thought of downsizing in light of Alex’s departure for college and selling their very large house to raise the money never seems to occur to them, so a montage ensues as the couple seek, unsuccessfully, to source the money by other means. Next comes the obligatory trip to Las Vegas during which they are on the cusp of winning all they need until clichés abound and it all falls apart in an instant. Subsequently, when their recently-separated gambling addict pal Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) suggests they team up to establish an illegal casino in his home, they are initially wary, but in the interests of narrative expediency, they change their mind quick smart and the scene is set for what was no doubt intended to be a series of hilarious scenarios.
As the scale of their operation grows, the situations in which our intrepid trio find themselves become more over-the-top and they soon come under increasing suspicion from the local policeman (Rob Huebel) and corrupt councilman (Nick Kroll). Unfortunately, pretty much every scene falls flat and even a big-name cameo in the final act fails to enliven proceedings. Presenting middle-age suburbanites behaving badly seems to be the newest trend in Hollywood (Bad Moms, Bad Neighbours etc) but there is a distinct lack of subtlety in these stories as the desire to push each scenario to the extreme overwhelms any potential to deliver something that is both amusing and insightful. The Ferrell-starring Everything Must Go (in which he delivers a fine performance) is a great example of the way in which humour can be mined from the tribulations of contemporary life.
It is hard to imagine that even fans of Ferrell, Poehler and the rest of the cast, which includes Allison Tolman – who is terrific in the first season of the Fargo television series – would be satisfied with what they have been presented here. It is just not funny, and spectacularly so, which does lead to questions about why Ferrell and Poehler would sign on in the first place. However, at least they knew what they were getting themselves into and whilst anybody who has seen the trailer (which is every bit as unfunny as the film) should also know what to expect, those who spend their hard earned on this without undertaking due diligence might find themselves in need of good wash afterwards to rid them of the stench of mediocrity to which they have been exposed for 90 torturous minutes.