REVIEW: The House

3 07 2017

A government official yanks away a college scholarship promised to a local girl, deeming it “an indulgence we can no longer afford,” in the same breath as he rewards wealthy townspeople with luxurious new facilities. Is this a scene in Andrew J. Cohen’s comedy “The House,” or just another day on Capitol Hill? Show audiences in 50 years, and they will likely be unable to discern any difference.

As a series of gags loosely tied together by a hair-brained concept – Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler’s would-be empty nesters opening an underground casino to pay their daughter’s college tuition, the film leaves a lot to be desired. Like most studio comedies, “The House” throws together big comedic stars, a winning logline and a few stabs at thematically and socially relevant humor. The latter works when satirizing police surveillance in the smartphone era and stumbles when attempting a few jokes about date rape.

Ferrell and Poehler tend to take movie roles written for them, or at least well-tailored to their strengths. Nothing about “The House” indicates the screenwriters penned the film with them in mind. Ferrell’s outsized physicality and Poehler’s acerbic verbal wit go sorely underutilized.

Yet, on the other hand, they’re great avatars for the kind of well-off urban angst “The House” so deftly sends up. These are people who, for the most part, have achieved prosperity but still feel let down. “We tried to play by the rules,” laments Poehler’s Kate Johansen, “and it got us nowhere.” This disappointment and dissatisfaction leads them towards criminal enterprise, fight clubs for soccer moms and insurance fraud. It’s worth considering why this premise does not collapse immediately.

Oh, and “The House” takes place in this imaginary, fairy tale world where public officials face consequences for stealing money from the public! Must be nice. B-

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