When it comes to broad summer comedies, there’s a sturdy line between dumb-funny and plain ole’ excruciating dumb. Dumb-funny is a gift from the ha-ha heavens. Ted. Bad Moms. This is the End. Go back further to There’s Something About Mary and American Pie. Amen!
And then there’s The House.
Shrill, relentlessly lame-brained and more disposable than used Kleenex, the flick is the reason people rave about the golden age of television. Oh, you’re desperate to check out an adult comedy before the kids come home from camp? Fine. Just know that within the first few minutes, a teenage girl jokes to her friends at a party about the difference between “date rape and regular rape.” Ha.Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler, onscreen together for the first time since 2007’s Blades of Glory (dumb-funny!), can’t even make this thing go. They’re helicopter parents, Scott and Kate, whose only child is bound for college. When the girl gets into her dream school — Bucknell University (!!?!!) — the celebration is diluted because they can’t fully pay her tuition.
This is where any other high school grad chooses a back-up school or goes full-throttle on scholarship options. Maybe the parents take a second job or a second mortgage. But Ferrell and Poehler make a series of face-palming ludicrous and illogical decisions. I don’t buy that these moves are necessary in order to move the plot forward. The actions still need to make an iota of sense. They do not.First the pair decide to join their friends on a trip to Las Vegas. They lose their entire life savings at the table, because, as a buddy reminds them, the house always wins. Ding-ding-ding! Scott and Kate decide to convert their newly single pal’s basement into a makeshift casino and use the money to pay for Bucknell. The whole project will be top-secret and exclusive. They’ll even instruct their customers to use a secret back-alley path so neighbors don’t get suspicious. Cash will be kept hidden in safes. What could possibly go wrong.
Everything, of course. Friendly reminder that two imbeciles — albeit well-intentioned imbeciles —are running this operation. Guess a potential problem and I guarantee the by-the-blackjack-numbers plot will deliver it. Ferrell dressed in a zoot suit and smoking a cigar circa a 1950s mob boss? Done! A local cop slow on the uptake? Sure! It’s as if the two screenwriters sold their pitch based on the single line of “two suburban parents open a casino.” Then they realized they had to flesh out an actual plot and hastily tossed it together by reading Casinos for Dummies. The laziness shows onscreen, especially in the ultra-silly last act. Where’s Mariah Carey when you need her?
Ferrell and Poehler don’t get a free pass either. The comedy veterans do their Will and Amy thing — which is to say they put in as much effort here than they do for a typical appearance on Jimmy Fallon’s talk show. Nearly two decades into their movie careers, they’re too talented to once again play hapless, clueless caricatures seemingly ripped out of a leftover Saturday Night Live skit. Their natural affability can only go so far in a laugh-free dud. Next time the two collaborate on a project, I hope they gamble on something more special.
(The House opens in theaters on Friday, June 30).
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Also published on Medium.