I’m less bothered by the fact that I just sat through Andrew Jay Cohen’s The House than I am by the fact that now I have to write yet another thoughtful criticism of a Will Ferrell movie. In the 11 years I’ve been writing film reviews, I’ve lost count of how many Ferrell movies I’ve suffered through, how much time I’ll never get back. I now get to add The House to that endless list, even though, on the whole, it’s one of the least obnoxious of Ferrell’s pure comedic efforts. It’s also one of the more forgettable.
Ferrell here is reined in, even though his character is still an oafish boob who talks too loud and says idiotic things. He’s mitigated to an extent by Amy Poehler, who’s an equal focus of the film and who should probably be making better movies than this, but who’s an adult and gets to make her own decisions in life. What I’m getting at is that they’re both fine. The film is absurd and unrealistic, but never actually funny, just low-key abrasive and too high-concept for its own good.
The concept is the biggest issue here, as it’s a convoluted mess that’s tortured and contorted into something that resembles a plot. The idea here is that Ferrell and Poehler are a somewhat dull suburban family whose daughter (Ryan Simpkins, A Single Man) has gotten into Bucknell but lost out on a scholarship that would’ve covered her tuition. Not having enough money but wanting to do what makes their daughter happy, the two are convinced to start an illegal casino in their recently separated, down-and-out friend’s (Jason Mantzoukas, Dirty Grandpa) house.
Yes, the whole idea of this is pretty flimsy, but the movie ignores this and just crawls on forward, as our three gambling kingpins soon find themselves going from straight-laced suburbanites to greed-fueled cretins, roughing up neighbors for the money they owe them, (accidentally) cutting off the fingers of cheats and staging illegal boxing matches in their living room. It’s all very absurd of course, and The House makes no effort to even pretend any of this could ever actually really happen. The lack of simple logic is actually a bit admirable, but the movie never quite goes far enough with it.
The House sits somewhere on the fence between the surreal and the concrete, mixing in pastiches of other gangster films and some brief, trashy gore. But there never feels like there’s any thoughtfulness or construction to the separate pieces of the plot. Everything in The House just happens. And while it’s workmanlike in that sense, it feels as if it’s all glued together with a minimum of preparedness. While not the worst movie out there right now, it never approaches, let alone tries, doing anything noteworthy. Rated R for language throughout, sexual references, drug use, some violence and brief nudity. Now playing at AMC Classic, Carolina Cinemark, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande.