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Will Ferrell finally cranks out a decent comedy with The House after two duds in a row

Will Ferrell finally cranks out a decent comedy with The House after two duds in a row
Rating:Three stars

Director : Andrew J. Cohen (feature debut)

Starring : Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Jason Mantzoukas, Ryan Simpkins, Nick Kroll.

Verdict : Pays to be careful who you get in to bet with

HAD funnyman Will Ferrell been listed on the stock exchange, his last two films (Get Hard and Daddy’s Hom e, one-star wonders both) would be deemed sufficient grounds for a complete suspension of trading.

The problem in recent years — the rut set in around the time of the flat political farce The Campaign — is that Ferrell’s prolific output as a producer has diminished his instincts as a comedian.

He’s now a salesman first, and a showman second. Quite often a Will Ferrell interview will be far funnier than a Will Ferrell movie.

Thankfully, Ferrell’s new marquee release The House — marking his first lead role in quite some time — represents a welcome, if not sizeable increase in his ailing share price as a comedy draw card.

Ferrell and Amy Poehler (also a busy producer these days) play Scott and Kate, a cash-strapped couple who start an underground casino in their neighbourhood.

The reason why the pair flout the law so brazenly is simple enough.

Their only child, daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) is about to start college, and a much-needed scholarship that would have paid the huge tuition fees has been cancelled.

As soon-to-be empty-nesters with empty pockets, Scott and Kate are desperate enough to try just about anything.

So when their gambling-addicted friend Frank (a scene-stealing Jason Mantzoukas) comes up with a get-rich-quick scheme that can be conducted at the rear of his property, the game (and the gaming) is on.

After a very pedestrian opening act, The House is capable of getting very funny very quickly when its goes off-script, and lets loose with the silly and surreal stuff that has long been Ferrell’s strong suit.

In particular, a series of weird references riffing on the old Scorsese-De Niro classic Casino lifts The House out of many a potential flat spot.

Scenes where Scott, Kate and Frank are forced to deal with cheating and non-paying customers are where the biggest laughs can be found, with a few even straying into the did-that-really-just-happen? zone.

There are also some very amusing sequences about cramming the usual trappings of a gambling den (including slot machines, standover men and, umm, unsanctioned boxing bouts) into a suburban lounge room.

Just don’t go trying any of this at home, OK?

Nothing truly classic happening here in The House, but in a year that has been deathly for worthwhile comedies, this is an easy kill for a dependable number of laughs.
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