Review: The House
“Some clichés are cliché for a reason” says Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) at the start of this film. Unfortunately in the case of The House it does also say a lot for the construction of the plot and characters of this solid, average, straight down the middle production.
The problem with reviewing comedies is that they are very subjective. What I find funny and what someone else finds funny can be very different (to use a gambling metaphor ‘cards on the table’, I love Will Ferrell!) However in this instance we have two very strong leads in Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler so this is good both in terms of what I watched but also as a point of comparison.
The plot has echoes of an Old School or Semi-Pro-X where seemingly normal person needs Y thing and Z consequences occur where the sum equals hilarious consequences. In this case it’s a couple who are a bit overly attached to their teenage daughter and wanting to send her to college but are denied a scholarship. Here to help is their deadbeat friend who helps them run an illegal casino.
In and of itself the idea isn’t bad and there are some genuinely laugh out loud moments. This is a rare example where the trailers don’t quite convey the unexpected brutality of a suburban fight club or a character who seems incapable of understanding numbers. The chemistry of Ferrell and Poehler is also very strong and the pair play well off each other.
The problem is that this needed to either be a lot more cartoonish and zany or more of a Coen-brothers style black comedy. Instead we have something that times feels like a committee created it (pop culture references, gags that seem to be created as catchphrases, awkward self awareness).
In terms of the back catalogue Step Brothers and Blades of Glory are good points of references. Step Brothers felt like an exaggerated real life but it did have a weight and consequences to it. By contrast Blades of Glory revelled in its ludicrousness, like the best sports movie spoofs do (Hot Rod being another fantastic example).
Ironically for something about casinos it never feels like the stakes are very high in this. Jeremy Renner’s head villain seems like miscasting. Given they reference The Sopranos I would cast one of them because they look intimidating but also have fantastic comic timing and it doesn’t feel like the cause and effect are equal.
While it is unfair to compare this to Some Like It Hot (a classic that has a pace to match a lot of modern comedies) they were smart enough to make the villains truly intimidating so that you believed that the leads really did need to take drastic action.
In short this film is the equivalent of a meal at Wetherspoons. There is nothing truly wrong with it but you are aware there are better meals out there. As a fan of Will Ferrell I laughed and enjoyed this while I watched it. I am happy to say it is better than other late Frat Pack films like The Internship (aka a feature length Google advert) and you get just enough from it.
The cliché is not always true. As a watch The House doesn’t always win but it will be worth playing a hand or two when it comes out on DVD/streaming/soluble films in pill form (depending on when you read this).