The House

Maybe it’s appropriate that The House feels like an overextended comedy sketch, given the late-night television roots of stars Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler.

Yet the desperation in the plight of their characters seems to extend to the film as a whole, a thin and uninspired suburban satire that’s more obnoxious than amusing.

Scott (Ferrell) and Kate (Poehler) are ready to send their precocious daughter (Alex Simpkins) off to the expensive private school of her choice on a full scholarship, only to see the approved public funds pulled at the last minute by a slimy city councilman (Nick Kroll).

Left without a backup plan, but determined to fulfill their daughter’s wishes, the pair hatches a plan with Frank (Jason Mantzoukas), Scott’s equally distressed friend who’s facing foreclosure after a nasty breakup. After a failed weekend in Vegas, they opt to open a full-fledged casino in Frank’s basement to raise the money from their high-rolling neighbors. Naturally, with such high stakes involved, it’s not as easy as these mild-mannered cohorts envisioned.

The characters conveniently lack common sense as their scheme unravels in predictably outrageous fashion in a town that apparently has only one dimwitted cop.

We’ve seen this shtick from Ferrell before, as the bumbling, uptight and overprotective father. Poehler is squandered in what amounts to a hapless sidekick role, and Jeremy Renner pops in briefly, for some reason, as a deranged mobster.

The film offers a half-hearted examination at the effects of rising tuition costs on middle-aged families and impending empty-nesters. Yet that credit seems generous for a project that consistently relies on low-brow vulgarity in lieu of clever gags.

The incoherent result seems to have suffered from some egregious post-production tinkering, which undercuts even further the few scattered genuine laughs in the directorial debut of screenwriter Andrew Jay Cohen (Neighbors). In particular, the final half-hour seems to have been pieced together on the fly.

Perhaps the biggest issue is that the film requires an outrageous suspension of disbelief when it needs some level of realistic grounding in order to generate sufficient emotional investment. Indeed, moviegoers will be the losers if they gamble on The House, a strained comedy that quickly cashes in its chips.


Rated R, 88 minutes.