Scott (Will Ferrell) and Kate (Amy Poehler) Johansen need money for their daughter’s (Ryan Simpkins) college tuition. The city council-sponsored scholarship she was supposed to earn was pulled due to budget cuts. Scott and Kate fail to get raises at their respective workplaces.
Then there’s Frank (Jason Mantzoukas), the gambling and internet porn addict best friend of Scott whose wife has left him. In shambles, all Frank wants is to take that trip to Las Vegas that he has been planning with the Johansen’s for some indeterminate period of time.
It is here that they decide, with one quote of a cliche, to open an illegal casino in Frank’s home. With the money that they could earn as the shady “house,” the Johansen’s could pay for their daughter’s college and Frank could try and get his life back together enough to win his wife back.
This is The House in a nutshell, and beyond this premise there isn’t much else to say about the film from a narrative standpoint. The film follows a logical pattern, progressing toward the mutually understood plot points for a film of this ilk.
Otherwise, the film moves forward without any real sense of intentionality. The story exists in a world that could only exist within a movie, because it moves from plot point to plot point for the sake of pacing efficiency.
And, to be fair, it accomplishes the hurdle of quality pacing quite well. The film moves at a tight clip that allows the negative comedic bits to (for the most part) slide out of sight-out of mind. There is the occasional joke about something as atonal as date rape that throws everything off balance, but pacing otherwise fixes a lot of issues that come with lukewarm bits.
Story issues aside, the film survives on its strong performers. Supporting roles from comedy heavyweights such as Rory Scovel, Lennon Parham, and Cedric Yarbrough may not live up to what one might expect given their track records. But the leads carry the comic torch for them.
Ferrell and Poehler have their moments—their ability to make a quality gag out of an only adequately written bit is a must in the case of this film—but it is Mantzoukas that steals the show. His reactions and brash delivery fit perfectly into the odd-man character that he plays.
On the whole, The House strains to have a satisfying package, losing the power of its more subversive moments as a result. The film attempts a balancing act between a darker, more raunchy comedy subgenre and one that wraps everything up in a neat little heartfelt bow.
The former hits to surprising hilarity. The latter falls flat. Together, they reach a midpoint that may seem filling at first, but it is really just empty calories. You may laugh once or twice, but the film itself is doomed to a future of cable airplay and obscurity.
The House: C+
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)