Scott (Ferrell) and Kate (Poehler) are parents to Alex (Ryan Simpkins), who is about to head off to college. One problem, Scott and Kate didn’t save any money for their ONE DAUGHTER to go to school. Well, they may have saved something, but it’s clearly not enough. Also, the scholarship their town awards fell through because of some shady business from Bob (Nick Kroll), the head of the town council. So, Scott and Kate make the great decision to go with their down and out, gambling-addicted neighbor, Frank (Jason Mantzoukas), to Vegas and lose more money. Frank then comes up with an idea to run an illegal casino out of his house so that he can get out of hock and Scott and Kate can send Alex to school. The casino is a hit with the neighbors, but local cop, Officer Chandler (Rob Huebel), is suspicious and starts investigating. Will Scott and Kate get the money they need for Alex or will the world of illegal gambling corrupt them beyond recognition?
Here’s the skinny on The House: all the casino scenes are mostly hilarious. Everything else is terrible. So, you’ll definitely laugh, but this film could have been broken down into short five minute clips and saved everyone a lot of time and effort, or lack thereof. It’s so frustrating to see movies like this where insanely funny people are put together and the results are so tepid. I mean, the majority of the scenes that don’t take place in the casino are painfully unfunny. The performances feel completely uninspired and you have to wonder if Director-Co-Writer Andrew Jay Cohen only had a ten-page script and then yelled at the cast, “Wing it!” Each of the first three scenes of the film could have started off the movie and the audience would have never known the difference. The script is a total mess. Many of the scenes don’t seem to work and it really feels like Cohen filmed a ton of material and just made it up in the editing room.
It’s clear that there might have been two movies here and Cohen decided to mash them together. There is the plot that follows the town council machinations, which is the main source of antagonism, and then there is the mob element—featuring a cameo from Jeremy Renner—which gets much less screen time and was, honestly, way funnier. It’s possible Cohen tried to keep the film anchored in reality so that the crazy stuff in the casino would pop more, but I think he should have gone all out. The comedy comes from watching these bland suburbanites devolve into outlandish criminals as the money pours in and they all give in to their baser instincts. The fight night scene is especially hilarious. But that’s all this film has: moments. Once we return to the light of day, the funny is washed away until we return to the warm neon glow of Frank’s underground casino.
Ferrell and Poehler are great when they’re allowed to cut loose, but they struggle mightily to mine comedy from the “normal” scenes as husband and wife. Simpkins, who has a nice resume outside of this film, looks totally lost and out of her element here. Mantzoukas has the most opportunity for hilarity and he makes the most of it, but the script doesn’t do him a lot of favors. Honestly, this film might have been much better if Frank was the main character as opposed to Scott and Kate. You could have had dramatic elements of a man whose life is falling apart, but also the comedy of the outlandish solution to his problems. Kroll has a few funny moments, but again, the script doesn’t help him. Huebel also does his best to play the straight man here, but it feels like a meatier role was out there for him and lost. Lennon Parham, Cedric Yarbrough, and Andrea Savage all put in nice work as some of the degenerate neighbors, but of course, their best scenes come while in the casino.
Overall, The House is a wasted opportunity. This film should have been comedy gold all the way, but it feels like Cohen and his Co-Writer, Brendan O’Brien, didn’t know what story they wanted to tell. These are the guys who brought audiences the Neighbors movies and I had some of the same complaints about those films. Skip this one, but try to find the casino clips online, they really are inspired.