“The House” is a movie that feels less funny than it actually is. The laughs flow as freely as a casino’s complimentary Heinekins and Jack and Cokes, and the story is safely nestled on a thick line of believable ridiculousness. The fact that there’s so much raw comedic talent throwing the dice, with only so much comedic winnings being dished back out, makes this movie feel like a gamble.
Composed of some of stand-up, TV, and film’s most versatile comedic stars should make “The House” the hilarity event of the year. We got SNL alum in Amy Poehler and Will Ferrell who play a married couple in financial straits when trying to send their daughter to college. Then there’s the spokesmen from FX’s calvacade of TV comedy heroes, Nick Kroll and Jason Mantzoukas of “The League.” Kroll plays the chief villain, a city councilman, while Mantzoukas plays a neighborly conman who gets Ferrell and Poehler in on a home casino idea. Not to mention welcome appearances from Rory Scovel and Kyle Kinane, two prolific standups whose extensive flannel wardrobe would make Paul Bunyan blush.
While “The House” should be using its talented cast and cooky, casino setting to serve frequent jokes, the movie instead places its bets on overly-long sequences with little payoff. Minutes upon minutes are devoted to a foxy boxing fight, then a sequence where Ferrell and Poehler try to convince their daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) they aren’t high, and a half-parody, half-plagiarized “Casino”-esque sequence where Ferrell cuts a guy’s finger off. Again, these sequences are funny, but they feel like a waste of the film’s already short 90 minute run-time.
Directed by Andrew Jay Cohen and co-written by Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, “The House” isn’t particularly remarkable on a visual or storytelling level despite its bright casino lights. What might be the film’s biggest flaw is that it puts its two most talented stars in a position where they aren’t able to generate laughs. Ferrell and Poehler have both played parents before but their best familial roles were when they were hapless patriarchs or matriachs, like Ferrell as the blissfully unaware Ricky Bobby in “Talladega Nights,” or Poehler as the eccentric Angie in “Baby Mama.” Making Ferrell and Poehler play actual good adults immediately reduces the payoff that audiences could receive.