Tag Archives: F

THE HOUSE

Producer:  Andrew Jay Cohen, Joseph Drake, Jessica Elbaum, Nathan Kahane, Brendan O’Brien, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay
Director: Andrew Jay Cohen
Writer: Brendan O'Brien and Andrew Jay Cohen
Stars: Will Ferrell Amy Poehler, Jeremy Renner, Jason Mantzoukas, Nick Kroll, Ryan Simpkins, Rob Huebel, Allison Tolman, Michaela Watkins, Cedric Yarbrough, Andy Buckley, Andrea Savage, Lennon Parham and Alexandra Daddario
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures/New Line Cinema

F

Despite the old adage about the house always winning, this Will Ferrell-Amy Poehler comedy is a complete loser, so excruciatingly bad that it makes you cringe while watching it. Any picture that encourages you look forward to “Daddy’s Home 2” to provide a respite must be beyond the pale.

The idiotic premise concocted by “Neighbors” writers Brendan O’Brien and Andrew Jay Cohen (the latter also serving as director this time around, flaccidly) has Ferrell and Poehler playing Scott and Kate Johansen, a dumb-as-nails suburban couple who smother their daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) with affection and are determined that she should attend the college of her choice—Bucknell (a distinguished institution that should be embarrassed at allowing its name to be used in this context).

When their crooked town councilman (Nick Kroll) cuts the scholarship money they’d been planning on from the town budget, they have to scramble to replace the funds on their own. Their solution is to transform the nearby home of their dissolute friend Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) into an underground gambling den, a Los Vegas lite establishment that will rake in scads of cash in a matter of weeks from the town’s residents, who apparently have nothing better to do than toss away everything they have (which seems, on the basis of this telling, to be a great deal) on slot machines and craps.

That last word is especially appropriate given what follows. The movie soon turns to such unlikely sources of mirth as staged fights between antagonistic neighbors on which players can place bets. (The one involving Lennon Parham and Alexandra Daddario as dueling housewives seems to go on forever, and is utterly repulsive.)

Even those bouts seem positively benign, however, beside such scenes as the one in which Poehler debases herself by squatting in the hedges to urinate, or the moments that involve bodily injury. In one case, Ferrell uses an axe to chop off a guy’s finger, leading to a fountain of fake blood, and in another a crime boss played by Jeremy Renner (a good actor presumably paying off some terrible debt) has his arm chopped off (more gushing blood) and then is actually burnt up. What could be funnier?

The level of miscalculation in “The House”—a word used quite deliberately, since one of the mirthless notions in the script is that Scott is totally inept with numbers—is really astronomical. Scott and Kate are so stupid that the obvious joke, that their level-headed daughter is the real adult of the family, is undercut (a single-cell organism would be smarter than they are). Frank is such a repugnant character (much is made of the fact that his wife, played by Michaela Watkins, has dumped him, and one can easily understand why)—and Mantzoukas so frantic in his attempt to get laughs—that a viewer might be forgiven for averting his eyes whenever he appears.

The ancillary figures are no better. Kroll is forced into unconscionable mugging as the sleazy councilman, and one feels sorry for Allison Tolman, who must confront the fact that the reactions of her character—the co-worker he’s having an affair with—veer so radically from scene to scene that they make her seem emotionally schizophrenic. The same might be said of Rob Huebel as the top cop, a clueless dolt who in the end helps to engineer a happy resolution in which Scott and Kate suffer no consequences for their multiple felonies and Frank and his wife reconcile with dreams of insurance fraud dancing in their heads.

After suffering through “The House”—which is ugly visually as well as narratively (Clayton Hartley was production designer and Jas Shelton the DP)—you might scratch your head trying to think of one even remotely pleasant moment in it. You’ll come up empty. Oh, wait—there is the moment that “The End” appears on the screen. Unfortunately, the words are followed by a series of blooper out-takes that are no better than the movie that’s preceded them.

TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT

Producer: Don Murphy, Tom DeSanto, Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Ian Bryce
Director: Michael Bay
Writer: Art Marcum, Matt Holloway and Ken Nolan
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Laura Haddock, Josh Duhamel, Santiago Cabrera, Isabela Moner, Jerrod Carmichael, Stanley Tucci, Liam Garrigan, Martin McCreadle, Glenn Morshower, Gemma Chan, John Turturro, Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, John Goodman, Erik Aadahl and Ken Watanabe
Studio: Paramount Pictures

F

Anyone walking unawares into this fifth installment of Michael Bay’s mindlessly bombastic franchise based on the Hasbro toy line might think that he’d stumbled into a screening of Guy Ritchie’s bomb “King Arthur” by mistake. That could be cause for alarm, except that in the end even that summer stinker was a more pleasurable viewing experience than “Transformers: The Last Knight.” Megatrash as only Bay can make it, this represents some of the most inane drivel ever to (dis)grace the screen—and an obscene waste of money to boot. (The turkey cost more than $200 million, not counting marketing expenses.)

The Arthurian prologue, as it turns out, explains how the Transformers first got involved with humans on earth. It seems that boozy Merlin (Stanley Tucci, wearing a beard that he probably hopes will obscure his identity) convinces a Transformer to give him a powerful staff; it mutates into a fire-breathing dragon that turns the tide of a fifth-century battle Arthur (Liam Garrigan) and his men are waging against a huge barbarian horde. Their victory leads to the creation of the round table and the burial of the staff with Merlin far below ground. The staff becomes the script’s MacGuffin, the all-powerful thingy that everybody is out to possess—including the Quintesson queen (Gemma Chan), who needs it to fulfill her plan to restore Cybertron by destroying earth; she abducts and brainwashes Optimus Prime (voiced again by Peter Cullen) to serve in that effort.

The queen’s plan rouses Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins, chewing the scenery with relish while reciting his lines at breakneck speed, presumably to camouflage the stream of nonsense he’s saying), the last representative of a secret society that’s been hobnobbing with the Transformers since the fifth century. He forcibly recruits the two people who can save the planet from calamity. One is our old friend from the previous movie, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg, looking craggier this time around, perhaps as a result of understandable exhaustion), who has taken refuge in a huge junkyard with some of the Autobots—including Bumblebee (Erik Aadahl) and Hound (John Goodman)—being hunted by a new anti-Transformer military force. He is said to represent the “knightly” virtues necessary (as far as one can tell from the chaotic final battle)—to wield Excalibur. The other is snooty Oxford professor Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock, herself abruptly morphing from prune-faced feminist skeptic to high-flying heroine, as well as romantic interest for Yeager), who—Burton reveals—is the only living descendent of Arthur and thus, the sole person able to unleash the staff’s power.

It would be almost impossible to explain everything that happens subsequently in the script by Art Macum, Matt Holloway and Ken Nolan, because frankly it’s an incomprehensible farrago of numbingly stupid, haphazardly connected excuses for more metal-crushing action. The theft of a submarine museum is involved, which leads to a visit to Merlin’s underground (or is it undersea?) mausoleum. Agent Seymour Simmons (a manic John Turturro) reappears; he discovers an old manuscript associated with Arthur and Merlin. There are scenes of Optimus, who keeps announcing portentously “I Am Optimus Prime,” as though he’s having trouble remembering his name) being tortured by Queenie. His nemesis Megatron (Frank Welker) turns up on occasion, as when he negotiates with Transformer-hunter Lennox (blandly handsome Josh Duhamel) for the release of his nefarious comrades, but he’s a pretty negligible character this time around. Much is made of a talisman given to Cade by a dying Autobot, which apparently identifies him as “The Last Knight.” There are also new characters linked to him—a comic relief figure named Jimmy (Jerrod Carmichael), whose frantic asides offer no relief at all (one of the unhappy facts about the script is that all the jokes are incredibly lame and references like Optimus’ regurgitation of Churchill’s “finest hour” speech borderline offensive), and a spunky little orphan named Izabella (Isabela Moner), who’s terribly annoying. At one point a battle occurs at Stonehenge, the site of which is somehow related to the Arthurian business, and though Chicago escapes destruction this time around (we only see existing rubble there), that ancient circular monument does not.

Mention of the Stonehenge sequence brings up the variable quality of the visual effects, since one long shot of the site represents so bad a modeling job that it looks as though it might have come out of a Lego box. Otherwise CGI is continuously slathered over everything with such abandon that it makes it nearly impossible to judge Jonathan Sela’s cinematography, which is further handicapped by the need to cater to the IMAX 3D format and by the editing credited to (though “blamed on” would be more accurate) Mark Sanger, Roger Barton, John Refoua and Adam Gerstel, which seems based on the notion that unless things move frantically even in dialogue scenes, the audience’s attention will wander beyond recapture. As usual, Steve Jablonsky’s score is ear-splitting but unmemorable.

At one point in “Knight” Burton tells Yeager that the fundamental question they have to answer is why the Transformers return to earth again and again. The answer is obvious: because their pictures keep making big bucks. It’s time to eliminate that excuse. Moviegoers of the world, unite! Do to the Transformers what you did to the Ninja Turtles last year! Stop them in their tracks! Just say no!

Of course, then the postscript added at the close of the credits here—involving a mysterious hooded lady in a desert, a scene clearly designed to prepare the way for a sixth installment—would be rendered moot. Unlike the Transformers, that would be a real boon to humanity.