Blu-ray Review: The House (2017)

By , Contributor
One of the summer of 2017's box office casualties, The House has a couple things working against it from the get-go. First of all, that title. There have been horror movies called House. There was an acclaimed TV series by that name. Calling a major theatrical release The House, at this point in time, was essentially the same thing as saying "Please don't remember the title of our movie, or what it's about." Generic barely begins to describe the title. Add to that the fact that the pairing of stars Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler might've garnered attention a decade ago. And event then it probably wouldn't have ignited any fires.

Now that The House arrives on home video via Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, it has a chance to raise its profile by airing on a much more modest scale. As its mercifully scant 88 minutes unfold on the small screen, many other recent comedies come to mind. This is one of those movies in which an impossibly square, middle-aged, suburban couple discovers their wild side and suddenly turns into a pair of bad-asses. Think Keeping Up With the Joneses, Neighbors, and numerous others. Scott (Ferrell) and Kate (Poehler) Johansen are struggling to pay their mortgage as their 18-year-old daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) prepares to leave for college. Alex has received a scholarship—awarded annually to the most deserving resident of the Johansen's upper middle class community—that will allow her to attend an expensive private university.

Lots of riffing, some of it chuckle-worthy, about Scott and Kate embarking on a "fuck-fest" after Alex flies the coop ensues. But Ferrell and Poehler struggle to establish any credible romantic chemistry. They seem even less believable as parents of a recent high school grad. To her credit, Simpkins (just 19 and already a ten-year-plus acting veteran) drolly underplays. She's the most least-cartoonish of the Johansen family, perfectly conveying a combination of love and confusion as her parents veer off the rails.

The reason for said veering: the community revokes the scholarship without warning in favor of building a pool. Hard to sympathize with the Johansens—as pointed out at the town council meeting, the pool will be a major benefit (and, with its concession stands, a source of revenue and jobs) for all residents. But it was admittedly a crappy thing to do at the last minute, sending Scott and Kate scrambling to generate beaucoup bucks in a short time. They team with friend (and degenerate gambler) Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) to start an underground—and highly illegal—home casino operation. As casino patronage increases, so do Scott and Kate's egos. Before long they're parading around like Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone in Casino, engaging in highly unethical acts as their business begins to attract a criminal element.

The House almost feels like it was aiming for something much darker and bleaker than what it comes up with. Whether or not writers Brendan O'Brien and Andrew Jay Cohen (the latter also directed) had anything truly satirical in mind, the problem here is that the material is just not very funny. Everyone in Scott and Kate's community, from the soccer moms to police officer Chandler (Rob Huebel), behaves as if they're a member of a sketch comedy troupe. Which leaves very little to relate to or root for. For what it's worth, Alex appears to be adjusting to the vanishing scholarship just fine—coming across grounded enough to survive just fine going to a cheaper state school. In other words, it's nearly impossible to care about anyone's plight. And the "jokes" range from material about rape, cancer, and other topics of highly varying degrees of taste.

Warner's Blu-ray contains lots of deleted/alternate scenes, a gag reel, "Line-O-Rama" outtakes (the bane of so many modern comedies, demonstrating that instead of careful scripting the movie relies on rampant improv), and a pair of making-of featurettes.

Ultimately The House is recommended only to true diehard fans of Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, or a particular two-time Oscar nominee who drops by late in the film for an extended cameo.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is film and music. His new jazz album Good Merlin is now available.

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