PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — No reason in the world that The House shouldn’t bring down the house.
After all, the comedy stars Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler, two supreme comedy talents and iconic on-screen brand names who have excelled on television – especially on Saturday Night Live – as prelude to movie careers, and have also served as producers of late.
And this particular collaboration has what seems like a can’t-miss premise.
Unfortunately, the film itself is more desperate than the central characters, and its sadly-lacking attempts to be funny fall painfully short.
In The House, Ferrell and Poehler play marrieds Scott and Kate Johansen, soon to be empty nesters, with an only-child daughter named Alex (Ryan Simpkins), who has applied to Bucknell University.
The good news is that she gets in.
The bad news is that the scholarship everyone thought she was getting falls through for convoluted reasons not worth detailing.
But how can she now go, given the $50,000 or so in tuition that they just don’t have?
Which is why they agree to a get-rich-quick scheme proposed by their gambling-addict friend and neighbor Frank, played by Jason Mantzoukas, to help him launch an illegal casino in their basement as a way of raising all that money.
And once their underground operation is up and running, with their home undergoing a Vegas-like transformation, the Johansens find that, like criminal wannabes, they enjoy running the casino.
Ferrell served as one of the film’s many producers for debuting director Andrew J. Cohen, who wrote the two Neighbors comedies and co-wrote the script for this one with Brendan O’Brien.
And Cohen’s got an able and experienced supporting ensemble that includes Jeremy Renner, Michaela Watkins, Nick Kroll, Allison Tolman, and Rob Huebel – none of whom gets to play a developed character or deliver a legitimately funny or memorable line.
But the trap that Cohen falls into is to assume that inflating broad and silly jokes and making them bigger and louder also makes them funnier. As we learned in his two Neighbors flicks, that’s certainly not necessarily the case.
The House not only does virtually nothing with its premise, but resorts to extravagant violence in a chase after presumably easy laughs that never come close to landing.
As for Ferrell and Poehler, never has either seemed less charming, less appealing, less funny, or less equipped in the comic lead.
But they fit right in in this slapped-together, embarrassing mess, which amounts to what seems like a parade of first takes involving a group of regretful performers.
So we’ll gamble on 1 star out of 4. In casinos, we’re told, The House always wins. Well, not this time.