Wednesday, 5 July 2017

The House

(MA15+) ★★★

Director: Andrew Jay Cohen.

Cast: Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Jason Mantzoukas, Ryan Simpkins, Nick Kroll, Rob Huebel.

"I love it when we blow each other, honey."

POP quiz: What was the last genuinely funny live action comedy starring Will Ferrell?

It's probably The Campaign, back in 2012, which was under-rated. But if you were one of the many who missed that one, you'd have to go all the way back to Step Brothers, which was almost a decade ago (The Other Guys didn't do it for me, sorry). And Step Brothers was panned by critics, growing in esteem as an almost cult favourite over the past nine years.

Which brings the us to the next question: is it possible that, especially of late, Will Ferrell has been punching below his weight? Or, even worse, is he over-rated?

If nothing else, Ferrell has been under-performing and his latest venture The House doesn't exactly stop the rot, but it's a pause in the losing streak. It gives Ferrell the perfect foil in Poehler, who can match him joke for joke, and their combination elevates the whole film above its creaky moments and paper-thin plot.

Short version of that scant storyline - Poehler and Ferrell run an illegal casino.

Slightly longer version - Poehler and Ferrell team with their gambling addict buddy Frank (Mantzoukas) to run an illegal casino in Frank's house so they can afford to send their daughter to college.

In the same way that many of Ferrell's run of sports movies were largely plotless vehicles for him to be silly in (Ferrell plays basketball, Ferrell is an ice-skater, Ferrell drives NASCAR), this is all about wacky Ferrell running rampant through a high concept. The notion of Ferrell pretending to be De Niro in Casino works for a surprisingly decent amount of time.

What takes The House to a pass mark is Poehler, and the pairing of her and Ferrell as husband-and-wife team Scott and Kate. Poehler hits as many zingers as Ferrell, but they're better together. Their comedic chemistry elevates the material and keeps the gags coming for longer than logic would permit - when they're hapless suburbanites feeling their way into the underworld of illegal gambling, they're funny, and when they embrace their roles as casino mobsters, they're still funny. 

Further upping the ante is Mantzoukas as loose cannon catalyst Frank. He has as many aces up his sleeve as Ferrell and Poehler, in particular a golden moment (as seen in the trailer) when he attempts to deliver a tough guy line while fighting the urge to vomit.

The House doesn't have much else going on though. It introduces a cameo bad guy late in the piece that could have been set up better, its evil mayor villain (Kroll) is underdone, and there is a missed trick in the idea that the casino business alienates Scott and Kate from their daughter (Simpkins).

Pleasingly (although it may rub some people the wrong way) the film is utterly morally bankrupt. It revels in its dark side and doesn't try to Disney its way out of the darkness with a redeeming message. It just goes "fuck it, we did some bad shit", and is refreshingly accepting of its absurd irredeemability.

All in all, The House wins more than it loses. It's built on weak foundations, but it hosts a decent-enough good time before it all collapses in on itself.

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