The House, D
Rated R, 87 minutes
This must've seemed like a great idea on paper: the first-ever pairing of two comedy icons - "Saturday Night Live" castmates Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler - for the unfunny new comedy "The House," but as we know, actual translation to screen can be considerably different. In spite of a few scattershot laughs (watch the trailer and you'll get all 3 minutes of them there) and the energy of its leads, this is a tiresome, lame attempt that goes wrong really quickly.
Scott and Kate Johansen (Ferrell and Poehler) must figure out a way to earn some money after their daughter's (Ryan Simpkins) scholarship falls through. When all else fails, the desperate couple join forces with their neighbor Frank (Jason Mantzoukas, of "Sleeping with Other People") to start an underground casino in his home. As the cash rolls in and the good times fly, Scott and Kate soon learn that they may have bitten off more than they can chew.
The likable but dumb "The House" is directed by Andrew Jay Cohen, the writer from the hit comedy "Neighbors," and is co-written by Cohen and Brendan O'Brien. The premise itself is a shaky one: it'd really be hard to keep a secret casino in a small town secret for long, much less keep from an astute teenage daughter who's much smarter than her parents; as well, its title is confusing, given that "the house" is the casino run in a neighbor's house, not the main characters. Those are among its many problems, but a Ferrell comedy usually doesn't let coherency or common sense get in the way of trying to score a few laughs (see "Daddy's Home" or "Get Hard" or others for this fact).
Outside of the casino premise, there's little going on here, in spite of a game Ferrell and Poehler, two exceedingly talented comedians whose talents are utterly wasted under Cohen's sloppy, slack direction and script. What's supposed to be the film's funniest ongoing gag - a bit involving Ferrell and the misuse of an ax - is also its most disturbing given all the blood-letting it causes. The film's best bit is too brief: a fight club that is much more interesting (and funny) than the gambling.
Ferrell, as the uptight and awkward Dad, can play these types in his sleep, and with that, there's nothing really new that the film provides; Poehler could be funnier, as could Nick Kroll as the film's chief villain, a corrupt city councilman who tries to stop the casino. Mantzoukas has a few good moments as the stoned neighbor who goes in with his cash-strapped neighbors by hosting it in his home; watch for Oscar-nominee Jeremy Renner in a brief, perplexing cameo as a gangster.
If you're a gambling person, don't bet on the forgettable "The House" as it'll rob you of your time, money and senses. A big letdown for Ferrell and Poehler, especially since the biggest laughs come in the blooper reel they show over the credits, a strong sign the film wasn't funny enough to stand on its own.