In the directorial debut of Andrew J. Cohen (previously wrote Neighbours and Neighbours 2), the new film starring Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler is The House, which Cohen also co-writes with Brendan O’Brien.
The film sees Poehler and Ferrell as Scott and Kate Johansen, dutiful parents of soon to be university student Alex (Ryan Simpkins). When their local town cancels its annual scholarship award program in order to fund a large waterpark, set up an illegal casino to accumulate the money required to send her to college. This is all done with the help of family friend – Frank – played by Jason Mantzoukas.
Frank is struggling himself with some issues – specifically his his wife having recently left him – and the casino for him offers the chance to earn enough money to get his life back on track.
What starts out as a relatively small endeavour begins to escalate to near Vegas Casino proportions and sees the couple needing to deal with things from police investigations all the way through to cheats and gangsters.
Ferrell was off the mark with the 2015 Get Hard, and Poehler (whose main success was the TV show Parks and Recreation) has struggled to replicate that success on the big screen with Sisters being probably her best live action work so far.
As parents go to, the Johansens are hugely devoted to their daughter (if not awkwardly so) and the film operates with the level of ill conceived silliness and poor characters that prevent you really engaging with the story before the the rollercoaster of the casino really gets going.
It’s not without laughs and certainly watching the frustrated parents of the town turn to various casino activities to vent their frustrations offers amusing moments. Especially watching neighbours turning to the boxing ring to settle long term grudges. It isn’t that there aren’t any laughs in this film, its just that they are too infrequent.
And, that is in the end the problem – it just fails to deliver the key thing needed for a comedy good all fashion lapse into.
Ironically then that it is more the writing that lets Cohen’s first direction down more than anything else. It will be interesting to see what he does next after this.
In what seems to be somewhat of a break with tradition in terms of traditional casinos unfortunately on this case the house loses.