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90 Minutes or Less: The House Review

When their daughter’s scholarship to attend a prestigious college falls through, straight-laced couple Kate and Scott Johansen (Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler) are faced with mounting college fees they can’t afford. Their efforts to get a loan or payrise bare no fruit, thanks to some gentle persuasion from their friend Frank (Jason Mantzoukas), the Johansen’s come to realise they’ll have to raise the money through alternative means.

Instead of the usual ways you might try to earn some extra cash like a car boot sale, a raffle, a bake sale, trying their luck with online casinos, or buying a lottery ticket, the Johansen’s opt for a decidedly riskier venture. They open an illegal casino in their suburban home that quickly attracts the attention of the wrong sort of people.

It has been a good long while since Will Ferrell has hit the highs of Step Brothers or The Other Guys (the former celebrates its tenth anniversary this year). I would love to say that The House is a return to form, but it’s an often patchy offering that is held together by the likability of the main characters. Brendan O’Brien & Andrew Jay Cohen’s (Bad Neighbours) script is serviceable albeit highly predictable (you know everything is going to work out in the end), and there’s a sense that the best gags were the ones that were improvised.

Amy Poehler and Will Ferrall are a safe bet to wrangle laughs out of even the slightest of material, yet the comedy veterans get upstaged by a scene-stealing Jason Mantzoukas. If you’ve seen The League or his recurring role as Adrian Pimento on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, then Mantzoukas’ wild card antics aren’t exactly a creative gamble, but few actors can do wide-eyed unhinged like Jason Manzoukas. Speaking of scene-stealing, the usually super serious Jeremy Renner pops by for a fun (and unexpectedly gruesome) cameo as a local Mob boss. Now had he opted for a career in the infinitely safer online casino or baked goods industry, he might still be able to use a bow and arrow.

The House was a rare box-office misfire for the usually bankable Ferrell, which was followed by the diabolically unfunny Daddy’s Home 2. Hopefully, the shortcomings of his recent work will spur Ferrell to choose funnier material in the future. For all its many flaws and lingering feeling you’re watching a glossy sketch show, The House does have some solid laughs and its slight 84 minute running time means it zips by at a breakneck pace.

★★★

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