Sometimes a bunch of your favorite funny people get together and make you really, really sad. Sad because there must have been a good movie somewhere here—who doesn’t love flamethrowers, five-card stud, and suburban fight clubs?—but it is buried deep inside the comedy antimatter that is The House.
Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler star as Scott and Kate Johansen, the loving (if financially insolvent) parents of a college-bound daughter (Ryan Simpkins) who realize too late that they don’t have nearly enough for tuition when her promised scholarship falls through. They could take out a loan, or steer her toward a state school; instead, their best friend, Frank (Jason Mantzoukas), also broke and mildly deranged by a recent separation, convinces them to go all in on a local gambling ring in his living room. (Get it? The casino is coming from inside the house).
Hilarity should ensue, especially with a support squad of reliably smart players like Nick Kroll (as a smarmy local councilman), Rob Heubel (as a decent but bumbling cop) and Michaela Watkins (as the wife who has shed Frank like a bad sweater). But the story strangles any attempt at sense or subtlety—and the script by Neighbors duo Brendan O’Brien and Andrew Jay Cohen (the latter making his directing debut) is a flat, sloppy shambles so deprived of oxygen that its jokes seem to die before they can even hit the parquet floor.
In place of cohesive plot or actual wit, we get casual, cartoonish violence, scattered moments of absurdity, and a bunch of grown adults with 401Ks and phone clips on their chinos calling each other bitch, bitch. (Every a time a sweet little old lady says “f— the police,” an SNL angel loses its wings.) The outtakes during the end credits make it look like they actually had a pretty great time making this thing; it’s truly a bummer how little of that makes it to the screen. C–