is a slapdash comedy that plays like a filmed deal. It's the kind of movie where you can almost hear the corporate boardroom talk behind the scenes. "We've got this script that's not very good, but hey, we managed to talk some funny people into starring in it. We've got Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Jason Mantzoukas, and Nick Kroll in the same movie, so they should be able to improvise and make the thing work, right?" It's a movie that starts with a premise and some talented actors, and ends there.
Obviously, I wasn't expecting a realistic depiction of an underground casino with the movie, but you would think at some point that there would be some truth, or maybe a laugh that draws upon real life. None exists in the film's roughly 90 minute length. Scenes start and stop on a whim, characters wander through the sets like they're waiting for something funny to happen, and the whole thing plays like the script was either unfinished or everyone knew it was a stinker, so they tried to save it right there in front of the cameras. This seldom works. Even improvisational humor needs a solid foundation of a script to lean on. If you just place your cast in front of the cameras and tell them to go nuts, the results are usually always the same - You get a bunch of uncomfortable people who know that the material isn't working, but they have to look like they're having a good time.
In the film, Ferrell and Poehler play married couple, Scott and Kate Johansen. Their daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) has just graduated from high school, and is all set to go to her dream college, Bucknell University. But then, the Johansens are struck with the news that the scholarship they were hoping for has been scrapped by shady city councilman Bob (Kroll), who is planning to use the money for a lavish community pool. Turns out Scott and Kate have not really saved for their daughter's future, due to the fact that Scott is terrible with numbers and math. He tries to get a raise, and she tries to get her old job back (even though the movie forgets to tell us what they do for a living), but it quickly becomes apparent that Alex's college dreams may be smashed before they can begin. But then they take a trip to Vegas with their gambling and porn-addicted friend, Frank (Mantzoukas), and hit upon the idea of starting up an underground casino in order to raise money for Alex's college, as well as help Frank keep his house and hopefully win back the favor of his ex-wife.
Once this premise is established within the first 30 minutes, the remaining hour depicts a lot of comic actors performing blackout gags that never quite land. Again, the filmmakers were obviously hoping that the talented comedic cast could liven the material, but the movie has a sluggish and lazy quality to it. What few funny moments there are in The House
(and I admit, there are a few) have pretty much been given away in the trailers, so you can easily save the ticket price by watching the trailer online, and seeing the best it has to offer. I also think we're supposed to laugh at the fact that this quiet and laid back suburban couple quickly fall into depravity as soon as they get into the casino business, and are soon threatening people who owe them money, and chopping off fingers with axes. Again, there is no lead in to this change in behavior. It just happens, and the movie never really builds to any point or purpose.
As the movie goes on, Poehler starts smoking pot, and Ferrell starts wearing gangster clothes and talking in a low, threatening voice. Again, no explanation is given. I'm guessing some scenes are missing from the final cut, but honestly, the characters are sketched so thin that it probably doesn't matter. I simply found myself sitting there wondering why this was supposed to be funny. I get that these people are supposed to be lame (their idea of an exciting evening is watching The Walking Dead
with their daughter), but there has to be a lead in, or at least a character arc. You just can't suddenly show characters acting the extremely opposite way for no reason, and expect laughs. We never get a sense of Poehler and Ferrell as a married couple in the first place, so we don't get a sense of what they think about what's happening to them. Are they excited? Turned on? Intrigued to be seeing a different side of themselves and each other? The movie doesn't care.
All The House
does is prove something I have long believed - A movie should start with a script and a story that is worth telling, not simply as a vehicle where a bunch of people got paid and called it a day.