Two veterans of “Saturday Night Live” team up in this week’s new release The House. Amy Poehler and Will Ferrell play Kate and Scott Johansen, a married couple who are so proud and excited for their teenage daughter as she’s been accepted to a prestigious college. There’s just one problem: They’ve apparently spent all the money they’d put aside for that education.
Faced with the prospect of telling their baby girl she can’t go to school, they do what anyone would do: Open an underground casino in their house to make up the shortfall in cash. To help with that they enlist Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) and of course things quickly get out of hand. Not helping matters is that a local law enforcement official (Nick Kroll) is on their trail, suspecting something is going on.
The first poster is all about selling the audience on a couple of amiable comedy stars that they’re likely to enjoy. So Ferrell and Poehler are seen fully decked-out in their Vegas-like duds, the lights of their makeshift casino win the background. “If you can’t beat the house, be…The House” we’re told in copy that leads into the title. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with it as it clearly conveys the value proposition of the movie, it’s just that it’s blandly boring in the same way the posters for many recent comedies have been.
Character posters for both of the stars showed them at the height of their new gaudy lifestyle, with quotes that are pulled from footage we’ve already seen in the trailers. Another series of two posters took a similar approach.
The first trailer lays out the premise, which is that Kate and Scott have somehow lost their daughter’s college fund. Not wanting to disappoint her, they resolve to come up with a way to pay for her dream school. Enter Frank, who convinces them to open a casino in their house. Things of course escalate as they become more adept at operating the illicit operation, getting deeper into the personas they’ve adopted to do so.
It’s pretty funny and it looks like, unlike his last few roles, Ferrell is actually trying here. Poehler is always great and it’s clear she’s given just as much material to chew on as Ferrell, which is nice. And the presence of Mantzoukas is always a welcome one. Sure, it looks like a series of variations on the same note and it’s not clear how the daughter could continue to live in a house with all this going on and remain clueless, but let’s just assume that gets cleared up in the full movie.
Another trailer, a red-band version, hits most of the same story beats about the parents not being able to afford college and turning to an illegal casino operation to make money. It ends with an extended, graphic version of the “cutting the guy’s finger off” scene we’ve seen previously.
Online and Social
You get a recreation of the key art when you load the official website, with the addition of Mantzoukas. There’s a big button to click to buy tickets in the middle of the page and links to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles in the upper right corner.
Scroll down the page – or use the content menu at the top – and the first thing you’ll see is a surprisingly well-stocked “Gallery” with about two dozen stills. The “Story” is light on the actual story synopsis but heavy on mentioning all the producers and other technical personnel.
“Trailer” opens a pop-up window that plays the all-ages trailer. Next – and finally – there’s the “Pit Boss Name” generator that, from all appearances, takes your name and spits out some random combination of gambling-related words.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Outdoor ads used images of Ferrell and Poehler rolling in the cash from their illicit enterprise, just using the familiarity with the stars as the main selling point without any information or context of the story.
Both Poehler and Ferrell appeared in a commercial for “SportsCenter” with Kenny Mayne to offer the host some ideas on new catchphrases.
Media and Publicity
Just before the first trailer dropped EW shared a first look photo from the movie alongside some comments from Poehler and others. Another new photo came in EW’s summer movie preview. Yet another was featured along with an interview with Ferrell where he talks about both the comedy and genuine emotion of the story.
A little viral video hosted by Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) showed us around the underground casino he operates and resulted in a nice little press pop.
Both stars made the talk show rounds, engaging in the usual hijinks with late night hosts, many of whom the two stars had worked with on “SNL” and more. That included Ferrell appearing in tiger face paint as if he’d just left a child’s birthday party, Poehler recreating old routines with Seth Meyers and so on. There was also a big profile of Ferrell where he talked about politics, old sketches and more, including this new movie.
You’d be forgiven for feeling like you’ve seen this movie already. Will Ferrell acts slightly stupid and shouts about how he loves something so much. Amy Poehler acts stoic and responsible until she lets her wild side loose. Jason Mantzoukous is a vaguely shifty and sleazy bro who will definitely get other characters into trouble. It’s not selling anything new.
That’s probably the point, though. The campaign seems to *want* to feel as generic and unmemorable as possible. Not that it’s not trying to be funny or bring in ticket buyers, but it’s trading on the well-known personality types of its three leads, offering the audience exactly what they would expect. That even extends to the title, which tells you nothing about the movie or the story but is just a label slapped on the box. There are a few genuine laughs here, but for the most part it’s not making a case for anything intriguing.