Monday, February 28, 2011

Hall Pass

HALL PASS (Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly, 2011)

At first wandering eyes and rampant sex talk from married men Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis) earn them withering looks and chastising from their wives. Eventually such juvenile behavior gets each of them a so-called “hall pass” from their spouses. They are given a guilt-free week off from their marital commitments to do as they please, including sleeping with other women if the opportunities present themselves.

Their disgusted wives Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Grace (Christina Applegate) are following the advice of a friend who suggests that Rick and Fred have inflated senses of their virility and attractiveness. The hall pass functions as a reverse psychology tool that will ultimately provide them with renewed appreciation for the relationships they have and disabuse them of their lustful manners.

While their wives are away, Rick and Fred hit the town with their gawking buddies to flex the old ladykilling muscles. Having envisioned seven days of debauchery, they check into a hotel to keep from soiling their homes, but in reality these two talk a bigger game than they can play. They prove themselves inept at hitting on women. Most nights they’re ready to hit the sack well before last call.

Despite their incompetent flirting, Rick appears to be making some headway with Australian barista Leigh (Nicky Whelan) while Fred’s desperation lowers his initially high selectivity. Meanwhile, Maggie and Grace are forced to examine their willingness to grant the hall passes when they find guys putting the moves on them.

HALL PASS directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly, who are also among the four credited screenwriters, have made a career finding humanity among the crude and outrageous. Amid the puerile gags in THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, KINGPIN, and DUMB AND DUMBER, the films also possess a generosity of spirit for the foolish characters. HALL PASS features the Farrellys’ familiar combination of vulgarity and sweetness, but this time around the brothers mostly miss the mark.

HALL PASS plays like a third or fourth sequel to THE HANGOVER filtered through cheap pop psychology. Stale bits about marijuana brownies and masturbation come across as the last refuges of the creatively exhausted. While the film elicits occasional laughs, especially in the uproarious end credits sequence with Stephen Merchant, oftentimes it feels like the jokes are more restrained or halfhearted. That old touch isn’t absent, though. Leave it to the Farrellys to deliver a quality explosive diarrhea joke.

HALL PASS’S premise sounds like something out of a here today, gone tomorrow self-help bestseller making the rounds on morning TV shows. Thankfully it’s treated with about the same seriousness since the running joke is that Maggie and Grace haven’t really risked anything in unleashing their big talking husbands.

The problem is that, like this year’s THE DILEMMA and NO STRINGS ATTACHED, HALL PASS dodges to some degree the issue at the heart of this relationship comedy. Why must these men make such displays of their attraction to other women while in the presence of their wives, and why is the solution to have the couples communicate even less? The film doesn’t need scenes of them meeting with a counselor, but it could stand to have more interaction between husbands and wives, if merely to observe the embarrassment these men are causing.

The main cast is likable, maybe too much so as the boys embark on a week of attempted horndogging that is intended to be their undoing while the girls sit back satisfied in their superiority. Wilson delivers an amiable, low key performance that suggests Rick’s wrongs owe more to thoughtlessness and guilt by association. He seems too decent to find himself in this predicament. For all of Fred’s bluster, Sudeikis isn’t a creep as much as he is trying to live up to society’s image of masculinity. Their inherent harmlessness counteracts with the film’s need to take them down a couple pegs.

As the guys’ legendary womanizing friend Coakley, Richard Jenkins brings the sleaziness that HALL PASS is eager to poke fun at but doesn’t dare invest in the leads. In his very funny pick-up artist role Jenkins reeks of patheticalness like the trendy body spray he’s surely drenched in.

Although it’s refreshing that Fischer and Applegate are appealing and loving wives rather than ballbusters, they’re given so little to do and shoehorned into some dumb subplots that their efforts are squandered.

With HALL PASS the Farrellys strive to cut loose like they first did seventeen years ago, but the film’s slack nature feels like they are growing out of the gross-out humor game. Until a dose of cold reality,Rick and Fred hang onto fantasies better left in the past. The question is if the Farrellys need a similar intervention to realize they should move on from their crude younger days or if they’re better off channeling their comedic energies differently. The middle ground, at least in this instance, doesn’t really suit them.

Grade: C-

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