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So-called comedy desperately needs a script

Will Ferrell (from left), Amy Poehler and Jason Mantzoukas in new comedy, The House.</p>

Will Ferrell (from left), Amy Poehler and Jason Mantzoukas in new comedy, The House.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/7/2017 (958 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Going by the trailers and clips online, one could hope the comedy The House holds the promise of a rollicking and timely satire on, say, American corruptibility, attendant with the erosion of the middle class.

Don’t bet on it.

Instead, this film from director Andrew Jay Cohen is a pretty weak example of the throw-the-spaghetti-at-the-wall approach to contemporary screen comedy: only a couple of scenes stick.

Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler play Scott and Kate Johanson, a pair of suburbanites desperate to earn some money after their beloved daughter’s college scholarship falls through, owing to the machinations of a greedy/creepy town councillor (Nick Kroll).

Scott and Kate see a desperate way out courtesy of their friend, Frank (Jason Mantzoukas), himself coming out of a one-two punch of imminent divorce and personal bankruptcy. Frank gets the idea of turning his empty McMansion into an underground casino.

Under financial duress, Scott and Kate sign on. What follows is a comic descent. Scott, in particular, takes the douchey Robert De Niro character in Martin Scorsese’s Casino as a role model, and suddenly these nice suburbanites are in a garage trying their best to menace a blackjack cheater with an axe.

It’s a funny enough concept, with echoes of the 1977 comedy Fun With Dick and Jane, in which a suddenly insolvent bourgeois couple turns to bank robbery to maintain their cushy lifestyle.

But that movie had a script. The House has a few talented comics and a lazy director too content to turn the camera on and let 'em riff. It is notable that the film’s biggest laughs, occurring late in the movie and featuring Jeremy Renner as a local crime boss, had to have been scripted properly. It is undoubtedly a comic peak in 90 minutes of what is otherwise, geomorphically speaking, prairie.

Most of the film just seems lazily cobbled together, with mostly underwritten characters, Kroll’s being a particularly egregious villain designed to accommodate an ever-more-unbelievable set of comic circumstances.

One has become accustomed to seeing Ferrell gamely try to improv his way out of substandard material, but it’s especially disappointing to see the typically excellent Poehler swing-and-miss her way through most of the movie.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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