Every once in a while we get a fun little comedy that stars a bunch of friends and seems more like an excuse for them to hang out rather than to make a real movie. They’re mostly entertaining to watch, but almost always have the effect of making you wish you could hang out on set with these folks. I would say that last year's Sisters felt that way.
The House fits in that category. Scott and Kate Johansen seem to be a pair a clueless parents with a daughter about to head off to college. The problem is, they were counting on a community scholarship to pay for college, and that suddenly gets canceled as shady community leader Bob shifts the money to a fancy community pool instead. Outvoted, since most townspeople are more interested in a fancy pool than sending their daughter to college, Scott and Kate are confused and desperate – also, they seem to have been terrible at financial planning. This lines up perfectly with their friend Frank, who is recently divorced from his wife Raina and falling apart because of a gambling problem. Frank’s house is mostly empty since his wife took just about everything, so he gets the idea to turn his house into an illegal casino.
It starts out harmless enough, with the local townspeople enjoying the opportunity to blow off some steam and spend their money. However, soon enough things start to get out of control, and the underground casino draws the attention of both local gangsters and local police – eventually leading to a showdown with the crook who shifted the scholarship away from the Johansen’s in the first place.
The story is straightforward and simple, again, you don’t need a ton of plot here - just a set up to let some very comedic actors play around in and bring their own punchlines. The movie is directed by Andrew Jay Cohen, who has been mostly a writer up to this point (Neighbors, Mike and Dave need Wedding Dates). Here, he frames each shot to make the most use of the actors in it, and I have to believe that most of the movie was improv-style, making me want to watch all the outtakes. Yes, there are some over the end credits – but I feel like there are tons more somewhere!
- Will Ferrell plays Scott Johansen and delivers a solid performance – I actually prefer him as a regular guy slowly going crazy then an absurd character.
- Amy Poehler plays Kate Johansen and of course, delivers another solid performance as a woman who wants to do the right thing but also gets sucked into the casino life.
- Jason Mantzoukas plays Frank, and is all crazy brilliance as he slowly pulls it together through running an illegal casino.
- Ryan Simpkins plays Alex Johansen and actually does a good job as a kid who just wants to go to school, but also wants to hang out with and not disappoint her parents. I enjoyed the scenes of her with her friends.
- Nick Kroll plays Bob Schaeffer, the crook who shifts the scholarship away from the Johansens. Kroll excels at playing this type of horrible person, so he’s perfect in this.
- Allison Tolman plays Dawn, Bob’s partner in crime/conscious.
- Rob Huebel plays Officer Chandler, a nice neighborhood cop who gets caught up in Bob’s shadiness, but does the right thing at the end.
- The townspeople are played by various talented comedians and sketch artists – this helps provide the most comedy possible, even for small scenes: Rory Scovel plays Joe, Lennon Parham plays Martha, Cedric Yarbrough plays Reggie, Kyle Kinane plays Garvey, Michaela Watkins plays Raina, and there are plenty more with essentially cameos.
- Jeremy Renner has one ridiculous scene as Tommy, the gangster who seems to attempt to move in once the Johansens start to lose control and take on semi-gangster alter-egos.
I really enjoyed this movie, I thought it was silly and fun, and with an 88 minute run time (perfect for comedies), it’s a quick bit of entertainment.
8 out of 10 – gained points for Renner, I wish he was in the movie more. Lost points for the townsfolk almost immediately starting up a fight club in the casino – apparently there was a lot of buried resentments!