Often movie characters, as sympathetic as the script tries to make them, experience plights that the average moviegoer can’t imagine having to deal with. Luckily, “The House,” starring Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler as devoted parents who face the prospect of being really proud of their only daughter (Ryan Simpkins) but not having the expected money to send her to her dream college avoids that – though only briefly. Here are some of the options middle-class suburbanites, like the characters, had in that case twenty years ago when I went to school.
a) Beating the bushes for even more scholarships/financial aid.
b) Working part time while taking classes and transferring after a year if things go well.
c) Selling your organs on the black market.
Unfortunately, the families I knew did not happen to be characters in a Hollywood movie, so we bypassed option d) Start a casino in your mutual, newly-single friend’s house, which is what Will and Amy choose after several unsuccessful attempts to gain the money legally. Like the recent “Going In Style,” the movie loads the deck by having the main characters turn to crime only after playing by the rules for all of their life. Clearly, the pair adores their daughter, who is a genuinely good kid, plus they are both alums, so the option of having her go elsewhere really isn’t fair. In addition, their entire town has agreed to give Ryan the money – so when smarmy town council head (Nick Kroll) decides to rescind the offer and spend the money on a community pool, it’s a slap in the face. So when their mutual friend (Jason Mantzoukas) offers his house for a do-it-yourself casino, Will and Amy agree.
Soon they find themselves engaged in a series of deceptions – including lying to their daughter – in order to arrange the whole thing. At least getting their neighbors to come is a breeze, they’re more than eager – leaving Nick and his already-married love interest (Allison Tolman) in the dark. But soon, Will and Tina start to flirt with more danger – involving “fight nights,” axes, angry patrons looking for revenge, and regular shakedowns of those who don’t pay up fast enough, as they discover that damn, it feels good to be a gangster. Kidnapping, embezzlement and a car accident are added to the mix, too. Eventually, Ryan stumbles upon their secret, insists on helping them pull off an alternate heist in order to secure the money at last. Rob Huebel plays the town cop, who starts off helping Nick but then has a change of heart, making for some amusing scenes. However, most of them don’t manage to make it into more than chuckle-worthy territory if that. The main thing the movie has going for it is that it’s short – and at least, it whips through the obstacles in record time, so that the lack of humor isn’t as dire as it might have been otherwise. If you want to avoid the hordes of kids at “Despicable Me 3,” it’s a decent option.