Entertainment & Culture Film & TV

The House film review

Avatar photo
Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

How far would you go to send your child to their dream university?

The House, starring Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler (Parks & Recreation) and Jason Mantzoukas (The League) is a comedic look at what happens when two screwball parents team up to pay for their daughter’s tuition.

What to Expect

Ferrell and Poehler play Scott and Kate Johansen, college sweethearts that somehow managed to attain a posh middle-class suburban lifestyle. They have a brilliant daughter that would rather spend time with her parents than with friends. Sounds fishy already, doesn’t it? The House asks a lot from its audience in terms of suspending disbelief. But we’re talking about a movie whose premise revolves around running an illegal basement casino. So you might as well settle in for the ride.

Speaking of which, The House races through its opening scenes to get to the casino bits as quickly as possible. With no financial aid or bank loans available to them, the Johansens have just one month to raise $300k for their daughter’s tuition. The plucky parents need a get-rich-quick scheme and fast.

Enter Frank (Mantzoukas). Whereas the Johannsen’s need to rise to the challenge to send their daughter to school, Frank needs money to salvage his crumbling marriage and pay off his debt. Frank isn’t given much of an identity besides being the mastermind behind the basement casino. With not a moment to lose, Frank secures the help of the Johansens. He transforms his home into a lavish Vegas-themed penthouse. Complete with roulette, blackjack, poker, slot machines and a stage for performers.

The trick? Take advantage of “The House Edge” to earn money from their fellow gambling neighbours. Since the odds are stacked in the casino’s favour (the house edge in American roulette is 5.26%), all they need is a venue for some games and a steady clientele.

What follows is a series of outrageous underground casino antics. From betting on two housewives who solve a spat Fight Club-style, to Will Ferrell threatening would-be card sharks with an axe (he gradually adopts the nickname “The Butcher”). The Johansens quickly learn to appreciate the power and excitement that comes from running a suburban casino.

Place your bets!

Feeling lucky?

As the Johannsen’s lucky streak continues, their underground casino draws the attention of the local authorities. Nick Kroll (also of “The League” fame) plays a shady City Commissioner.
He scraps the annual student scholarship award in favour of building a world-class pool for the community. When he gets wind of the Johansen’s money-making scheme, he does everything he can to keep the money for himself.

Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler make an excellent pair as the dysfunctional Johansens, seemingly ad-libbing a majority of the scenes that they’re in together. Both are “Saturday Night Live” veterans, and their presence gives “The House” a dose of energy. Ferrell and Poehler are adept at playing aloof and naïve adults. At times “The House” feels like an extended SNL sketch that, for better or for worse, doesn’t know when to draw the curtain.

Although Ferrell and Poehler steal every scene that they’re in, the rest of the cast certainly pull their weight. Rob Huebel (“Transparent”) plays a simpleton police officer. While Mantzoukas’s Frank isn’t a far cry from his character Rafi on “The League.” Jeremy Renner makes a brief appearance as the local mob boss too.

Unfortunately, the odds were against The House at the box office, grossing a mere $34 million worldwide. Some of the jokes fall flat or seem forced. Overall, though, the film was fairly entertaining and not nearly as bad as other reviews have made it out to be.

Feeling lucky?

Does the concept of starting an underground casino sound tempting? While most of us won’t have the opportunity to transform our suburban home into a Las Vegas gaming parlour, we can take our chances online with some virtual spins at a roulette table. The number of online casino offer a huge variety of movie themed online slots, with games based on classic silver screen hits like Batman, Bridesmaids and Jurassic Park.

The Verdict

The House is what we’ve come to expect from a Will Ferrell comedy. There are plenty of easy laughs, raunchy language and good ol’ fashioned slapstick humour. Unfortunately it comes at the cost of meaningful character development. But let’s be honest: any semblance of a “serious” movie would detract from the absurdity.

If you’re looking for top-shelf cinema, The House won’t scratch your itch. But if you’re in the mood for some goofball belly laughs and a twisted take on casino comedies, then place your bets on The House.