I’m not sure if I’m “spoiling” anything here, but Jeremy Renner takes a break from franchises and shows up in the final third of The House. Playing a bad guy, the mere fact of his presence is meant to elicit laughter because… well, I’m not entirely sure why. That’s emblematic of the film itself. You have a lot of famous performers (most known for their comedic skills unlike Renner) trapped in a flimsy concept that only manages to wring less than 90 minutes of material. And there certainly isn’t an hour and a half’s worth of funny.
Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler are Scott and Kate Johansen, a middle-class couple about to become empty nesters as their daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) is about to enter college. It’s the summer before her exit and her folks are trying to maximize their time with her. They’re a bit of the overprotective type who smother their kid and guilt her into Walking Dead nights instead of visiting her friends. Alex’s higher ed plans take a hit when the Johansens learn a long-planned for scholarship is kaput because a corrupt city councilman (Nick Kroll) would rather spend it on a community pool.
With the need to make some fast money, what’s this seemingly normal couple to do? In this high concept exercise, the answer is teaming with down on his luck divorcee neighbor Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) and opening an illegal casino. The scheme yields dollars but other complications that come with the high roller life. Criminal elements enter the mix and this new job also gives the Johansens a personality transplant into a hard partying couple who start to believe their dangerous notoriety.
Bottom line is that we see Ferrell do his goofy Everyman type turned goofy comedic hard ass. If you find that irresistible, maybe there’s enough to sustain you here. Yet this effort from director Andrew J. Cohen (who co-wrote the much more satisfactory Neighbors) hits its marks with infrequency. Adam McKay is a producer here and he’s done better work with Ferrell. I couldn’t help but wonder if the sometimes sharp political commentary McKay brings to his work would have helped here. I’m pretty sure the script is trying to say something about the plight of the middle class and their earning power, but it’s buried in spurting blood gags and believing Jeremy Renner turning up will work as a gag on its own terms. There’s humorous moments peppered throughout, but nowhere near enough to recommend it.
** (out of four)