Monday, 14 August 2017

Movie Review: The House (2017)

I don’t really have anything to preface this. Combining disappointment with apathy doesn’t make for the best material, especially in response to something, but as I’ll get into, that’s about the extent of this film’s level of engagement. Time to board the “Will Ferrell, what are you even doing anymore?” train once again: This is The House.

The plot: Suburban parents Scott (Will Ferrell) and Kate (Amy Poehler) are ecstatic to discover that their daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) has been accepted into college. Unfortunately, since they didn’t get her scholarship, they don’t have the means to afford it. With the help of their neighbour Frank (Jason Mantzoukas), they decide to open an underground casino at home to generate the college tuition. However, they soon run into trouble with their local councilman Bob (Nick Kroll), who plans to shut the whole thing down.

If I can give this film credit for anything, and it’s a bit of a strain to do so in the first place, the cast here is pretty good. Ferrell and Poehler work nicely opposite each other, and they handle the suburban parents/sub-Mafioso duality better than I ever could have expected. Mantzoukas returns with yet another scene-stealing performance, to the point where the film is arguably more about his character than anyone else here, and he makes that prospect rather inviting. Kroll has gone from being a literal douchebag in last year’s Sausage Party into just a figurative one, except here, that doesn’t equal an engaging presence; it just makes you want to reach through the screen and deck the bastard. Oh, and Jeremy Renner shows up as well to get set on fire; if I ever find the reason why this is a thing, I’ll likely transcend this mortal plane full of incredibly weak comedies.

Between the Bad Neighbours films and even last year’s Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates, writers Brendan O’Brien and Andrew J. Cohen (the latter of whom is in the director’s chair for this one) have earned a respectable place on my radar of late. Well, not every project turns out a winner and it looks like we’ve stumbled upon their first real dud. The initial premise, coupled with a bit of anti-authoritarianism in connection to the councilman antagonist, is pretty solid and allows for a lot of comedic possibilities. Or at least it would, if the story had any real direction to it. We have the setup, Scott and Kate raising money for their daughter’s college tuition, and aside from an initial showing of every other alternative in terms of getting that money before resorting to illegal gambling (in a touch reminiscent of the original Bad Neighbours), that’s it in terms of progression. What follows from that point on for the rest of this 80-minute film is a series of set pieces involving some form of violence, threat of violence or just rambling to fill up space. None of which feels like they’re connected in any real way to each other, other than desperately hoping to make the audience laugh. Considering how funny and smart Cohen and O’Brien’s previous work has been, even the less-than-appreciated Mike And Dave, this is a serious step backwards for them.

Then again, I get the sneaking suspicion that they weren’t exactly firing off on all cylinders here to begin with. I say this because there’s way too instances where you can clearly tell that these guys aren’t at their trope-defying best; namely, because of how over-used some of the gags are. Not to mention dated, like a certain quip near the end that seems to be a sly dig at Trump, only it’s clear that it was written while he was still running, meaning that it’s another example of the leftist hubris “let’s mock the guy, rather than actually trying to get in his way” that resulted in him being elected in the first place. The script was first shopped around in 2015 and it shows. Beyond that we have a scene, after Scott and Kate make their full transition into The Butcher and The Torcher respectively, with the Sopranos theme song in the background. Coming from two writers within the Point Grey stable, usually the best around in terms of licensed song comedy, this is pretty weak. And yet, that’s not even the worst of it. No, the worst of it comes when the police arrive at the casino, causing the policeman in question to yell “Respect my authority” in proper Cartman fashion without any inkling that the film is on its own joke. Anyone else coughing from the thick layers of dust on these gags or is it just me?

All in all, this is a serious disappointment as someone who is a big fan of Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien’s past work. Instead of their usual genre-tilting expertise coupled with a genuine understanding of character, what we have here is a potentially decent concept ruined by a lack of narrative progression and some embarrassingly dated jokes. I know I’m in the minority when it comes to Mike And Dave, but even still, that looks like a proper masterpiece compared to this throwaway of a film. It’s worse than A Dog’s Purpose, which I honestly take more personal offence towards but it at least had a few moments that were legitimately engaging; all this creates is a heavy sigh of disbelief. However, since this film is still sound in terms of what is going on and why, it ranks higher than the complete incoherence of Transformers: The Last Knight.

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