A.O. Scott gets it.
Of the alarmingly few reputable critics to write about the new Amy Poehler/Will Ferrell comedy The House, the New York Times reviewer ranks among the vast minority of film analysts who had a good time with the culturally relevant romp from the team behind the comparably hilarious Neighbors movies.
Go ahead and insert a “senses of humor are relative” comment here, but Andrew Jay Cohen’s film features such a wide swatch of funny folks from the Parks & Recreation, The Office and Veep extended families that, if viewers are fond of any of the above shows, odds are good that they’ll connect with the material at hand.
Furthermore, in our current respite between Paul Feig headaches, the fact that the story of Kate (Poehler) and Scott Johansen (Ferrell) starting an illegal underground casino with Scott’s gambling-addicted best friend Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) so they can afford college for their daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) feels largely improved still works may be its greatest accomplishment.
Cohen and co-writer Brendan O’Brien give their gifted ensemble room to experiment, letting many scenes of the secret business’ growth organically develop but keeping a firm hand ready to cut and keep the pace cooking.
Encounters at Frank’s converted home and out in the community as the lead trio embrace their new roles as bosses yield steady laughs while shady maneuvering by City Council leader Bob (Nick Kroll) intelligently raises plenty of contemporary finance woes facing many middle class families in the Johansen’s situation.
The various steps taken to hit Alex’s tuition total and avoid detection by Officer Chandler (Rob Huebel) is enough to propel The House forward at a blistering pace, but with the amusing insertion of an Oscar-nominated performer, the film suddenly takes a detour into ill-fitting dark territory.
Never fear: our amateur tough guys and gals tilt the tone back in their direction before too much of the film is disrupted and close things out in a ways that’s true to the style with which the smile-inducing antics began.
Grade: B-plus. Rated R. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Warner Bros.)