Review: The House

Distributor: New Line Cinema
Director: Andrew Jay Cohen
Writers: Brendan O’Brien, Andrew Jay Cohen
Starring: Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Ryan Simpkins
Composer: Brian Chapman
Genre: Comedy
Rating: R
When suburban couple Frank and Kate discover that their honor-student daughter Alex won’t be receiving a scholarship, they start an underground casino with their next-door-neighbor to try and raise enough money to put Alex through college. While the premise has plenty of comedic potential, and it boasts a double-dose of comedy star power, the film’s refusal to ever delve beneath its blandly superficial elements makes for a forgettable picture.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: One character has their finger chopped off by an ax, while another has his forearm lopped off in the same manner. Both incidents result in other characters being sprayed with gushing blood. There’s also a fight scene with several slow-motion shots of characters getting punched in the face, complete with blood flying from their mouths.
Language/Crude Humor: Profanity is used frequently, including f**k, b**ch, and p***y. One scene features a drunken woman urinating on a lawn with her pants down, though nothing above her thighs is shown.
Alcohol/Drug Reference: Characters smoke marijuana, a group of men snorts cocaine, and people are regularly seen drinking various forms of liquor. There is also frequent smoking of cigars and cigarettes.
Sexual Content: The mayor has an affair with his secretary, though the physical aspect is never shown. A woman can be seen topless for about a second as she and a man race down a set of stairs, clearly having just had sex. A couple of scenes show characters in bathing suits (topless men, women in bikinis). There are also plenty of overt verbal and physical innuendos.
Spirituality: None.
Other Negative Content: A great deal of gambling is obviously featured. The main characters are portrayed as justified in their illegal actions, and their morality eventually degrades to the point that they become violent toward their fellow citizens for no other reason than that they can be. Frank is established early on as a gambling addict, though this isn’t shown in a positive light.
Positive Content: Themes of family togetherness and personal sacrifice, though the handling of these themes is inconsistent and, at times, plays out in less than ethical ways.

Review

When Frank and Kate discover that they don’t have enough money to put their honor-student daughter through college, goofy suburban couple the couple team up with their gambling-addict neighbor to begin an underground casino. As their scheme unfolds, the trio acquiesces to committing steadily more heinous acts to preserve their miniature empire, eventually to the point of acting–and looking–like mob bosses.
Quite frankly, if I didn’t have to write this review, I probably would have already forgotten about this movie. The House is at times fun to watch, but in a mind-numbingly dumb way. It’s the kind of movie that makes you leave feeling as though you’ve left a few IQ points amid the popcorn kernels on the theater floor. Hopefully you can afford to lose them, because the movie’s characters sure can’t.
From the characters to the plot to the humor, this is a movie that lacks any form of intelligence. Not that this is in any way unintentional. It’s the sort of comedy that deliberately sets itself up to be idiotic. What such movies often fail to appreciate, though, is that being funny is not an excuse for lacking depth, and The House very clearly suffers from this misunderstanding.
Comedy is at its best when it has something to say, and The House both unfolds and ends in a way that makes sure to thoroughly subvert any message or social commentary it might have harbored. With no real depth available to fuel its humor, it ends up relying on the single comedic beat of a relatively normal suburban couple ending up taking part in antics that grow ever darker in their desperate bid to fill up a college fund. While this gradual decline into corruption is a meaty thematic starting point, the only thing the movie can think to do with it is to constantly recycle the same one-note joke by making it more and more ridiculous.
Of course, a joke is never as funny the second time it’s told, so the film compensates by employing the over-the-top antics of actors Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler. Their styles are somewhat polarizing in terms of audience reception, but regardless of taste, such antics don’t work to cover for the dearth of genuine creativity in which the movie wallows. Without any accompanying substance, watching adults scream and flail around quickly becomes more exhausting than amusing.
I will grant, however, that the joke of having two somewhat normal parents devolve into heartless tycoons is at least funny the first time, and none of the absurdity is wasted when, rather than breaking up a fist fight between their friends, the couple instead forces their customers to place bets on it. What follows is a drawn-out, ridiculous fight scene that becomes somehow engrossing precisely because of how carefully the confrontation is built up. Unfortunately, the movie fails to retain the lesson that payoff requires setup, and spends the rest of its runtime substituting randomness for wittiness.
The end of the movie is as predictable as it is lackluster. The motivation (and I use this term loosely) given to the story’s villain is halfhearted at best, as his only real purpose for being there is to be even more morally bankrupt than the protagonists. It’s enough of a detriment that the only way the movie can get the audience to cheer for its characters is to pit them against someone even dumber, but the creators of The House aren’t satisfied with such a meager level of self-destruction: they take it a step further by making sure that not a single character undergoes any changes by the time the final credits roll. Even this wouldn’t be so bad, if the film didn’t so resolutely try to make us cheer for these people.
Once their plans have all fallen apart, rather than rethinking their methods, Frank and Amy’s response is to double down on the most flawed parts of their original line of thinking by committing grand larceny–except this time, they include their daughter in their dastardly deeds. I suppose “always include family” could be something of a theme in itself, but the whole sequence becomes so silly that using the word “theme” at all feels overly generous. To make things worse, the movie’s handling of this final punchline isn’t even all that funny.
With its one-dimensional style and shallow humor, The House will certainly appeal to a fairly select demographic of viewers, but ultimately doesn’t offer anything more than a cheap bout of silliness. It might be sufficient as a way to kill an afternoon with some friends, but if you’re looking for a well-made movie or something you can engage with, don’t bother.

 

Positives

+A few genuinely funny moments +Strong actors, if you like their style

Negatives

-Most of the humor is mediocre at best -Lacks any semblance of depth -Unoriginal writing

The Bottom Line

The House manages to take the subgenre of "intentionally stupid comedy movies" and somehow make it even more shallow. The entertainment value here is about as thin as it comes.

 

4.4

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Ian Hancock

Ian is a speculative fiction writer with an English degree from the University of the Fraser Valley. When he's not writing, he enjoys strategy games, sports, anime, and finding new ways to make fun of life.

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