Lyrics from the opening and closing tracks of director Andrew Jay Cohen and his writing partner Brendan O’Brien’s The House (That Jack Shit Built) say it all really. “Open up the champagne” from Flo Rida’s titular track refers to Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler and their respective agents popping open a bottle of bubbly for services rendered. Alas, the only sounds emanating from the auditorium were not hoots of laughter or slaps of thighs but the roll of tumbleweeds and the whirr of air conditioning. And “Amazing, amazing, amazing” from Crown and The M.O.B.’s Love My People are three words you will never hear anyone use to describe this unfunny, unoriginal, unedifying flop.
With the exception of Smokey and the Bandit and a handful of other comedy classics, most films which feature outtakes during the end credits shriek of desperation. The House is no exception. Sure, Ferrell, Poehler and Co no doubt had a ball making it ‒ given their generous slice of the $40m budget, who can blame them ‒ but it sure as hell did not translate to the scenes rescued from the cutting room floor. Lines were learned, fees were earned and the cast and crew were obviously unconcerned that the vehicle (for that’s all The House is really) was dispensing its parts faster than Steve Martin and John Candy’s burnt out rental car in Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
The hook upon which the plot hangs is, likewise, shaky. Suburban parents Scott and Kate Johansen (Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler) are unable to afford the college fees of their Little Miss Sensible daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) because they are broke. However, one glance at their house on a hill with an open plan design which would give the cast of Friends a run for their money would suggest otherwise. Once you step over that elephant in the room, you come face to face with another: their gambling addict friend Frank Theodorakis (Jason Mantzoukas) who convinces them to co-run an underground casino in his equally spacious home with a view of settling his debts and raising four years tuition fees in one month.
Add to the mix a string of lame one-liners such as Scott’s distinction between “date rape” and “rape” as “dinner and a movie” and Frank’s numerical password “69247” standing for “69-ing yourself 24/7”, not to mention a couple of juvenile set-pieces including the drawing of a giant cock on a football pitch and the image of a drunken Kate urinating in a garden, and what you’ve got is a void to avoid. Towards the end, one of the characters (at least I think they were characters because like most American comedies nowadays it’s hard to tell where the actors stop and the characters begin) says: “When you emphasise one word more than the others, you know that’s bullshit, right?” Which is exactly what this film is.