This weekend two supposed comedies are in theaters, each boasting market-safe household names. R-rated “The House” stars SNL alums Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler as parents with an unusual solution to the problem of high college tuition; while PG-rated “Despicable Me 3” (DM3) has the advantage of being another installment in a popular franchise employing the voicework of Steve Carell and Kristen Wiig, and this time out “South Park” co-creator Trey Parker. There should be yucks-galore at the Cineplex this weekend, but big names are not enough. You also need a script.
Most egregiously, Trey Parker is wasted in DM3 as villain Balthazar Bratt, a bitter former `80s child-star. Virtually no jokes whatsoever were written for him to deliver, as though Parker saying anything is inherently funny. Bratt’s visuals are certainly amusing, as His garb, weapons, and fighting style are totally `80s… but I doubt the kids who’ll respond to the potty humor throughout DM3 will get the dated references since they weren’t even born in the `90s much less the `80s. No doubt the `80s angle was meant for the parents being dragged to DM3, but these one-note gags and musical cues quickly feel like a crutch.
To compensate, Carell does double duty as a previously unknown twin brother Dru. But that’s not the only late-revelation in this movie, or the only plotline squeezed into its scant 90 minutes. I counted upwards of 7 plots in DM3, all getting as little attention as there are punchlines.
“The House” doesn’t fare much better. The best lines are known from the trailer (with some trailer lines being cut from the movie?), and Poehler and Ferrell do their standard shtick, usually resorting to easy R-rated laughs. Supporting castmember Jason Mantzoukas gets the best material as “Frank,” whose gambling problem is ruining his marriage; so naturally he comes up with the idea for the illicit underground casino thinking being successful will save it.
A great actor can bring something to the screen that wasn’t on the page, but a great movie starts with the script; and depending on a cult of personality to deliver goods that are nonexistent in the writing is a Hail Mary pass that rarely makes the play.
Get a sitter and see “Baby Driver” this week, and take the kiddies to see “Spider-Man: Homecoming” next week.
Despicable Me 3 (2017)
Rated PG for action and rude humor
TRT 1h 30min
Directed by: Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin, Eric Guillon (co-director)
Writing Credits: Cinco Paul (written by) & Ken Daurio (written by)
The House (2017)
Rated R for language throughout, sexual references, drug use, some violence and brief nudity.
TRT 1h 28min
Director: Andrew Jay Cohen
Writers: Brendan O’Brien, Andrew Jay Cohen