Burnin' Down The House
- Shawn McEvoy Director of Editorial
- 2017 29 Jun
So THIS is the movie that makes me say it's finally time for the raunch-com to die. Even Warner Bros. knew they had an inconsequential stinker on their hands, opting not to screen it for media in advance. The House is empty of meaning, cozy with vulgarity, and with a distinct lack of storage space for humor. 0.5 out of 5.
The Johansens (Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler) are a somewhat treadworn modern couple who probably direct more attention and affection upon their only child, 18-year-old daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins), than is healthy for either parents or offspring. When Alex is accepted to Bucknell University, Scott and Kate think they'll just barely be able to afford the high cost of tuition because their small-town community has a scholarship set aside for Alex. Things change during a town hall meeting when the council and townsfolk would rather approve a new amusement-park-sized swim park with five pools and a food court. After looking into all (by which I mean a few) legitimate (by which I mean quick-and-dirty) ways of affording college, the Johansens agree that they can not tell their daughter the truth; they must instead team up with their depressed and separated neighbor Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) to run an illegal casino out of Frank's house. Hilarity ensues? Not so much.
Once upon a time, I reviewed a Hallmark movie called Space Warriors about kids at space camp starring a younger Ryan Simpkins. The camera loves this young lady, who has kind of a calm Zooey Deschanel thing going on. Every time Simpkins is on screen in The House, she's the best part of the proceedings, and that's saying a lot given the cachet of her costars (come on, Amy Poehler, you're Leslie Knope and the voice of Joy in Inside Out; you're better than this!). Only problem is, that corny made-for-TV movie from 2013 was a far better film. Here is the unabridged list of things that produced any measurable amount of laughter in this "comedy" - a severed finger spurting blood all over Ferrell, plot points so absurd one couldn't help but laugh in disbelief, and a few quick outtakes at the end.
The script is poor enough, but what's worse is the ad libbing, often a big part of especially Ferrell's repertoire. In The House, however, you can actually see the actors getting stuck trying to say something funny, and when they get stuck, what do they run home to? Some of the roughest language imaginable, often in situations that just don't warrant a bombing. It doesn't make us laugh, it makes us wonder about the intelligence of the characters, the actors, the writers, the director. And Jeremy Renner? Completely wasted here.
There is also a disconcerting lesson for this day and age about the necessity of paying exorbitant amounts of money for an education, and The House shamelessly preys in one scene upon parental fears: either your student gets an expensive private college education and rules the business world... OR they don't go to college at all and end up on drugs, prostituting themselves, or dead. No middle ground. In actuality, there is something of a societal shift underway now, rightly questioning the advantage of the 4-year traditional on-campus education vs. its cost, and this movie had such an opportunity lost to show Alex and her parents seeking out less expensive, alternative forms of learning and experience.
Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes
Sometimes we can find silver linings in even the crudest of films, but this one had an overly unrealistic plot, horrendous, unfollowable decisions made by parents in the name of love, and a throwaway takeaway about married couples going through a lot of crazy stuff (of their own making) only to realize they're each other's best friends. Even the ending offers nothing helpful: Alex is still able to attend Bucknell not through careful planning or hard work, but a ridiculous deus ex machina (it truly might insult those scrimping every cent to put a kid through college). One other couple reconciles instead of getting divorced, but it's really only because the wife saw what the husband could do when motivated to clean himself up and stop gambling... by getting all his friends and neighbors addicted and indebted instead.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)
- MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, sexual references, drug use, some violence and brief nudity
- Language/Profanity: The f-word is the word of choice here, and I mean that literally: it's used in every way it can be used, often, and chosen when completely unnecessary (not that it's ever necessary); the Lord's name is taken in vain, and several varieties of a-s, d-ck, sh-t, b-tch, etc.
- Sexuality/Nudity: A married couple talks about what they plan to do to each other once their college-age daughter is out of the house; some brief nudity during a raid on the casino when unclothed people come running out of upstairs rooms (huh, they hadn't mentioned this was a brothel, too); several sexually suggestive moments and gestures; Kate pulls her pants down to urinate outside on a neighbor's lawn at night, something she apparently used to enjoy doing in college; an extramarital affair; an addiction to porn is discussed.
- Violence/Frightening/Intense: Part of the plot centers around the kind of violent and fear-inducing behavior those who run casinos 'need' to have in order to keep the clientele from cheating and to make sure they pay what they owe; Scott and Kate transform into alter-egos known as 'The Butcher' and 'The Burner' respectively, wielding an axe and a blowtorch; a man's middle finger is chopped off, and blood shoots out from it (played for comedy); a mob boss's arm is chopped off, and then he's set on fire and rolled up in a carpet, apparently dying from his wounds; a stabbing with a knife; a house is set on fire; one character casually suggests committing insurance fraud; several characters jog through town pushing and intimidating citizens; boxing matches and fight clubs break out in the casino, which offers betting outcomes on them.
Drugs/Alcohol: Several characters smoke pot - Kate ends up admitting she constantly craves it and the calm it gives her; people in the casino do cocaine; much drinking of all types of alcohol; Scott smokes a thin Italian cigarrette.
The Bottom Line
RECOMMENDED FOR: The most amusing parts involved horrific spurts of blood; is that your thing? Folks, this one's a loser, proving that The House doesn't always win. It's one thing when a talented cast just doesn't deliver, or when an R-rated film offers some kind of lesson or at least a night of big belly laughs. The House had none of that. The raunch-com (and the death of Nora Ephron) killed the rom-coms my wife used to love; now it's time for something to step up and put this tired genre out of its misery.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: The most disappointed ticket buyers will be fans of Ferrell (Stranger Than Fiction), Poehler (Parks and Recreation) and Mantzoukas (The League), who offer nothing to compare to the works we love them for. Even those seeking nothing but fun - or a useful solution to paying for college - aren't apt to find much here. And of course, if you like movies with either morals or a moral, just stay several blocks away from The House.
The House, directed by Andrew Jay Cohen, opened in theaters June 30, 2017; available for home viewing October 10, 2017. It runs 88 minutes and stars Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Jason Mantzoukas, Jeremy Renner, Nick Kroll, Allison Tolman, Michaela Watkins, Ryan Simpkins and Cedric Yarbrough. Watch the trailer for The House here.
Shawn McEvoy is the Managing Editor for Crosswalk.com and the co-host of ChristianMovieReviews.com & CrosswalkMovies.com's Video Movie Reviews.
Publication date: June 29, 2017
Image courtesy: ©NewLine-WarnerBros.