The House: A Will Ferrell gamble that fails to pay off

This mirthless comedy feels like the result of terminal creative panic

Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler in The House

Film Title: The House

Director: Andrew Jay Cohen

Starring: Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Jason Mantzoukas, Nick Kroll, Jeremy Renner

Genre: Comedy

Running Time: 88 min

Fri, Jun 30, 2017, 08:15

   

If you manage to endure all the main action in this largely terrible comedy, you may as well stay for the bloopers reel over the credits. If nothing else, it’s cheering, after such a mirthless experience, to hear Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler laughing uncontrollably. There’s a sound you won’t have encountered for a spell.

Whole scenes appear to have been excised. We learn that briefly glimpsed, well-liked actors – the brilliant Sam Richardson from Veep, for instance – participated in longer, subsequently trashed comic routines.

The problem does not seem to have been that the film-makers had a surfeit of good material. Clocking in at under 90 minutes, The House feels like the result of terminal creative panic. The writers have saddled the team with a central concept that simply isn’t funny: a financially embarrassed couple turn their house into a casino to help pay for their daughter’s tuition fees. Ferrell and Poehler improvise furiously to make deeply witless plot swerves seem vaguely amusing. Maybe it will be funnier in slow motion (it won’t). Nothing works. Hey, let’s just chop out the very worst stuff and see if we can flog what little remains.

The slimmed-down version leaves the plot making little sense. For a few minutes, Will and Amy seem to have become intoxicated by the business and are relishing their role as gangsters. Seconds later they are again befuddled and terrified. Jeremy Renner’s cameo as a chief hoodlum is undermined by the fact that Jeremy Renner is no more at home to high menace than he is to high charisma. Occasional dips into hyper-violent comedy serve simply to further confuse the picture.

What’s it all for anyway? A cutaway of their daughter’s acceptance letter features the phrase: “Welcome to Buckley!!” These people are spending $50 squillion on a university that inserts not one, but two, exclamation points in a single sentence of official correspondence. America is doomed!!