I’m feeling uninspired. I’m not sure I can identify the exact problem with this movie. It has a talented cast and a promising premise – and truth be told, it did make me laugh, sporadically. But its squandering of potential deflated my enjoyment of the film.
Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler play parents who love their kid to death and are deeply embarrassed that they can’t afford to send her to her dream college when a town scholarship falls through. Instead of coming clean they decide to open an underground casino with their shadiest friend, who has just been left by his wife in large part due to his gambling addiction.
When The House has the strongest pulse, it’s cutting close to satire: the tragic middle class, the American dream, the panic of empty nesters. But unfortunately it relies too heavily on its stars to do “bits” rather than writing actual characters who could stand up on their own. I don’t know who Ferrell and Poehler were supposed to be as people, and it’s possible they didn’t know either. They just pop up, unformed, clown around, and never even stumble into an arc.
The comedy pinballs from farce to the strangely violent; yes, it’s uneven, but it’s also way darker than it needs to be. It’s trying to be wild and crazy, and adding Jason Mantzoukas to the mix is definitely the right choice as he electrifies every scene he’s in. But it’s not enough. The movie falls flat every time they step away from him, the Ferrell and Poehler characters seeming lost and sending out mixed signals. They seem content within their little bubble, then they rail against, then they profit from it. They pay for their mistakes by taking from their friends and neighbours. It feels unseemly, and it’s hard to root for them. Hectic editing tries to cover for plotting that’s just plain absurd. And the writing’s just lazy. I wasn’t even allowed to turn in a first draft of a seventh grade composition, yet this whole $40M budget movie got made based on a rough draft. A very rough draft.
It feels like we’re overdue for a genuinely laugh-out-loud comedy, but this isn’t it. It cracked me up in a few places, but never without letting me see how hard the actors were working to land the sub-par material. It’s a meh of a movie and easily forgotten.