I call Las Vegas my home so I tend to enjoy movies about gambling and casinos, and “The House” has plenty of good quality laughs. It’s not a shining example of a great comedy by any means, but it’s funny and creative enough to mildly recommend if you’re looking to switch your brain off for 90 minutes. I am actually surprised at how amusing this movie is.
Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler are Scott and Kate Johansen, a married couple whose only daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) is ready to leave for college. It turns out that after some financial confusion, they have no money to send her to school. Desperate to make $50,000 as quickly as possible, their gambling addict neighbor Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) suggests they start and run an illegal underground casino because, after all, “the house always wins.” The story may not sound that hilarious on the surface; it’s when the trio starts to become consumed with their new roles as wannabe casino mobsters that the entire premise takes off.
There isn’t a river of free flowing, laugh-a-minute jokes here, but there are enough quality laughs from the gags that do land — and when they land, they land in a big way. You may not be laughing throughout, but you’ll be laughing heartily when you do. Poehler and Ferrell actually pair comedically well together, playing off each other with a casual, comfortable swagger, but it’s Mantzoukas who quickly becomes the real scene stealer. His down and out character is funny without ever passing into lazy slapstick territory, and he is remarkably capable of handling some of the film’s darker, more serious jokes.
Nick Kroll and Rob Huebel lend their usual brand of deadpan humor as the crooked town mayor and the affable police chief, and there’s an unexpected brief cameo from Jeremy Renner as a real baddie (I wish he’d had more time onscreen). If you tend to find any of these actors hilarious, then you’ll “get” the brand of comedy in this movie.
Overall the film is not as generic as you’d expect and is actually a pretty funny concept that’s well executed. The story didn’t go in the direction I expected, and there are a few genuine surprises. Will this be a comedy classic for the ages? Nah. But it’s enjoyable even if it is ultimately forgettable.