The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The House

The House made a quick exit from theaters when it was released this summer, despite the fact that it teamed up comedy superstars Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler. Bad reviews hurt it, and poor word-of-mouth sealed the deal. Here's a case where a Blu-ray release helps shed light on a film's problems and, to some degree, rectify them. Warner Brothers Home Entertainment (who provided a complimentary copy for the purposes of this review) brings The House to DVD and Blu-ray October 10 in a surprisingly educational package.

The stars play Scott and Kate Johansen, a married couple whose teenage daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) wants to attend Bucknell University – which, incidentally, is just a few short miles away from The Aisle Seat headquarters and looks nothing like it does in this movie, given that there are no palm trees in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. They can't afford to send her to such an expensive school, though. After a trip to Vegas with their pal Frank (Jason Mantzoukas), they hatch a scheme to open a casino in Frank's home, then invite all their friends and neighbors to come and gamble, knowing that “the house always wins.” Of course, that comes with a lot of complications. It also changes their personalities, especially Scott's, since he has to take on the role of hard-nosed casino boss.

The House is one of those movies where you can fundamentally feel that things were cut out. It has an ace cast of comic actors – including Nick Kroll, Rob Heubel, and Allison Tolman in supporting roles – who are wasted, plus a promising premise that never delivers on the fun. The problem is that the film has clearly been edited to be nothing but punchlines, with no setup to them. Events occur, the attitudes of the characters change, etc. without sufficient justification. One gets the sense that anything that wasn't a gag was chopped out, even if necessary to advance the plot.

For example, Scott and Kate abruptly decide to open the casino, which feels artificial because very little time is spent showing the financial desperation they're in. And let's be honest, doing something like this would be a major deal. The House pays scant attention to how they rationalize their choice to go through with the plan, or how they actually put everything into place. They just do it. Comedic scenarios are funnier when you understand the reasoning behind them. Stringing a bunch of jokes together in succession, with no connective tissue linking them, isn't enough.

The House has a number of funny moments sprinkled throughout, yet because anything reeking of “story” has been deep-sixed, what's left is a scattershot mess that's unsatisfying, despite showing signs of real potential.

This is where the Blu-ray comes in. The bonus features contain almost ninety minutes of deleted, extended, and alternate scenes. That's as long as the feature itself. In these outtakes, you will find everything that's missing. A lengthy – and at times hilarious – scene shows the couple frantically trying to work with a bank representative to find a way to pay for Alex's tuition. (This scene in the movie itself is over almost as soon as it starts.) Scott has to talk a very reluctant Kate into going along with the casino idea. Supporting characters are more developed, which brings much-needed coherence to their respective roles in the rise and fall of the casino. More of the operation is shown, so that we understand how these ordinary people are pulling off such an outlandish scheme.

Watching all these scenes shows what The House could have been. Material cut out not only generates laughs, it also fills in the gaps, proving that the story was, at one point, a lot more fully formed. Why the movie was butchered so badly is a mystery. Reinstating many of the deleted scenes would likely turn The House into a wickedly satiric little comedy, rather than the intermittently amusing botch job that it is.

( out of four)

Blu-ray Features:

In addition to the lengthy deleted/extended scenes, the Blu-ray contains a funny 10-minute gag reel, a “line-o-rama” featuring alternate lines of dialogue, and a couple of behind-the-scenes segments. “Playing with a Loaded Deck” has the stars and filmmakers discussing their roles and the joys of working with an ensemble cast of expert improvisers. “If You Build It, They Will Come” focuses on the production's creation of the in-home casino, as well as all its little details. We also learn the cast members went to "poker school."

The extras presented here serve a far greater purpose than you normally find on home video releases, giving viewers a peek at what The House was initially intended to be. That marks it as one of 2017's most vital home video releases.

The House is rated R for language throughout, sexual references, drug use, some violence and brief nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 28 minutes.

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