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The House

Movie critics are an annoying lot. Here’s the latest example. They’re all praising Baby Driver, which isn’t very funny and is utterly ridiculous in every way. Other than a cool soundtrack, it’s got nothing. But the critics are buying the Edgar Wright BS. Since he’s done a lot of great comedies, they think this is the next step and it’s garbage. That movie is getting 97% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.

The House is getting 15% on Rotten Tomatoes, and my wife didn’t want to go see it. She’s not a big fan of the Judd Apatow style gross-out comedies. Yet she and I laughed almost non-stop. And really, isn’t that what a comedy is supposed to make you do? Who cares how silly or gross things can be, if you laugh, it’s achieved the desired result.

The movie starts a bit shaky. The first 15 minutes might be the weakest moments, but even those had some amusement. A couple (Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler) is at a town hall meeting, and the local mayor (comedian Nick Kroll) informs the town a bunch of expensive pools are going to be put all over town. Oh, and that scholarship the couple was banking on for their daughter is no longer available. Perhaps the only person more upset than they are is their best friend, played by Jason Mantzoukas (who was amusingly funny in Neighbors and Dirty Grandpa). His wife (Michaela Watkins, who was so terrific in the underrated In a World…) has just left him. He’s going to lose his house, and he’s addicted to gambling (among other things). Since they had a trip to Vegas scheduled, they go. After losing money and realizing “the house always win,” they decide to become the house. In middle-class suburbia, a two story home is turned into a cool casino. Entry into it is prohibition style. A stop at a local deli to use their parking lot, a walk through the woods, and a secret knock and password (“Andre the Giant”).

This is the first movie Andrew Jay Cohen has directed (he also co-wrote), and just like his movie Neighbors — it’s hysterically written.

You can guess some of the directions the house casino will go in, but there are so many bizarre surprises. There’s betting on boxing — using local neighbors that have long running beefs; one over a leaf blower that wasn’t returned. Even women get into the mix. Hey, if somebody doesn’t bring a dish to the potluck…that is grounds for a smack in the choppers.

There’s oxygen being pumped into the massage area. There’s a comedy club (with talented stand-up Sebastian Maniscalco, playing to a crowd of one).

And as the safes fill up with money, the couple needs to get more gangster. That means Ferrell wears “fancy” sunglasses and Italian suits, and Poehler carries a blow torch. This helps when a high roller gets out of hand (the terrific Randall Park), or a player counts cards. And what they do with the card counter…inspired by Casino…is wonderful physical comedy. The wife and I had tears coming out of our eyes with the absurdity of it (stay for the closing credits, which also have funny outtakes on that scene).

A handful of these things we’ve seen in other movies. Limbs accidentally being chopped off, jokes about the amount of sex a couple will have in an empty house; but Ferrell and Poehler’s delivery sells it all. In fact, I’ve spent the last two days using a Poehler line, where she puts the blow torch near her crotch and tells a gangster, “You wanted to get f***ed by a fire d**k ?!”

It cracks me up every time (but is driving the wife a bit nuts at this point).

That gangster is Jeremy Renner, and he plays a good heavy in his few scenes.

I wish Cedric Yarbrough (Reno 911) was given more to do. Just his facial expressions alone make me laugh.

When I saw the terrific comedy Band-Aid last week, I mentioned how even good writing can make a Holocaust joke work. Well, this movie has a date rape joke that actually works. Yes, this movie can go over-the-top, but you won’t have a more fun time at the movies this weekend.

3 ½ stars out of 5.