Review – Comedy Jackpot (“The House”)

Will Ferrell teams up with some of the best. John C. Reilly, Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Hart, and former SNL team player, Amy Poehler. In this riotous picture that, I swear, has to be mostly improv’d, the chemistry of Ferrell and Poehler together hasn’t waned a bit since their days on late night TV.

Every parents dream is to send their kid off to college and doting parents, Scott and Kate Johansen (Ferrell and Poehler), are no exception. Their loving daughter, Alex (Ryan Simpkins–who looks like Chloe Grace Moretz in glasses) has decided on prestigious (and expensive) Buckley University. However, at a local town meeting run by crooked City Councilman Bob Schaeffer (Nick Kroll), we find out that her scholarship fund has been taken away to pay for a local mega-pool. Uh-oh! Faced with financial hardships and not wanting to tell her the truth, Scott and Kate turn to their soon-to-be-divorced friend, Frank Theodorakis.

Frank (Jason Mantzoukas), with a head for numbers and a penchant for gambling, has a nutty idea: open up his home as a neighborhood casino and rake in the dough so that Alex can go to college… and pay his heavily-in-debt mortgage as well. Well, quicker than you can say, “Daddy needs a new pair of shoes”, the dice are being thrown, the cards are shuffled, and the roulette table is spinning. People and money are coming in fast and even “Fight Night” (one of the funniest scenes) is a big hit. Addicted to the power and fun of running a casino, the trio take things a little too seriously when a card-counter is caught cheating and is punished (another hysterical scene).

Scott lets his new enforcer persona of “the Butcher” go to his head (along with his wife) and this attracts the attention of a local mob boss (Jeremy Renner). But, naturally, this house of cards has to come crashing down sometime, and dim-witted Officer Chandler (Rob Huebel) is there is shut it down along with Councilman Bob. Ah, but get ready for a twisty-left turn third act that defies the normal clichéd-riddled ending that you’d expect. This off-the-wall screenplay is written by Brendan O’Brien (Neighbors) and director Andrew Jay Cohen (Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates), but you’d never know it, given the utter madness of the story. Was there even a written script?

The movie has a great time in taking sudden turns in directions you don’t see coming, and consequently making the film that much more enjoyable. Cohen sets up great scenes that play out to have very funny, even outrageous climaxes; the ‘finger’ scene being cringingly LOL and shocking at the same time. Much like Farrell’s other movies, I can’t tell where the scripted dialogue ends and the ad-libbing begins, but it doesn’t matter, it’s almost all golden.

The entire cast look like they are having SO much fun with this chaotic film, with the exception of Simpkins, who looks lost playing next to comedy royalty. Check out the delicious impersonation of Farrell doing his take on Robert DeNiro from Casino. Oh, and this film has the dubious distinction of kicking singer Mariah Carey off the set due to her “multiple unrealistic demands”. She was supposed to do a brief cameo. Divas… sheesh! 

Bunny O’Hare (1971)
*

*
Ah, kids! They’re your pride and joy in your old age, but let me ask you… how far would you go to help them out? Would you tell lies? Hang out with disreputable people? Even rob banks to support them? Well, in this unfunny comedy starring two of Hollywood’s biggest Academy Awards winning stars, that’s exactly what happens.Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine try and bring the funny in this story about a widow named Bunny O’Hare (Davis) whose home has just been demolished by the bank for mortgage default. Homeless, she hooks up with local plumbing guy, Bill Green, (Borgnine) who sells used toilets to Mexico. Soon, though, Bunny gets phone calls from her selfish and irresponsible children that they need money. Truth is, they’re lying about why they need it. Daughter Lulu (Reva Rose) has a inept husband she claims needs therapy (he’s just an idiot), and son Ad (John Astin) says he needs $$$ for an big oil investment, but it’s really for all his gambling debts.

Concerned, Bunny decides to rob the local banks in New Mexico to help them out, but with Bill’s help because, after all, he’s an escaped bank robber on the lam. My, wasn’t that convenient! Thinking of a quick ruse, both Bunny and Bill disguise themselves as two picketing hippies (after all, this movie was in 1971) with long hair, floppy hats, and a beard. Her plan works and, using parakeets as a distraction, they rob several banks for each pleading phone that call she gets.

Meanwhile, a super-dense cop, Lt. Horace Greely (Jack Cassidy) hires a pretty young criminologist named R.J. Hart (Joan Delaney), so he can get “the hippie’s perspective”. Uncomfortably, this middle-aged man and this college student become more than partners. Ugh! Anyway, the much-smarter R. J. narrows down who she thinks are the robbers as Bunny is mending a gun shot wound after their last heist. Conveniently (again), the two hippies that look just like Bunny and Bill in disguise, decide to rob a bank and are caught, much to the joy of Greely who thinks he’s finally caught them. There’s one last phone call to both her kids and Bunny, realizing she’s been had by her ungrateful children, has some choice words for them.

Just a miserable, unfunny screenplay by Stanley Z. Cherry and Coslough Johnson (both TV series writers), as it was meant to be a social satire of the times, and failed badly. How bad? Bette Davis sued the studios ($3.3 million) over the script and director Gerd Oswald’s terrible direction which, according to her, was NOT supposed to be a slapstick comedy.

Oswald, who directed almost all TV series episodes, tried to make this an extended version of some TV series he was shooting, and it looks horrible. The script didn’t help much with its boring plot and dialogue, not to mention the non-chemistry of powerhouse actors Davis and Borgnine. You can tell that Davis was phoning in her role, but at least Borgnine was giving it his best.

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