1998 was a long time ago. This is the key fact that Hall Pass reinforces, the Farrelly Brothers once again failing to live up to the promise of their earlier work. Hall Pass is actually a more ambitious gambit from an emotional standpoint than I was anticipating, but sadly forgets to bring the laughs in any proper quantity. The movie’s examination of modern domestic values is interesting, yet the Farrellys fail to work the film’s fertile concept up into a rewarding comedic lather. It’s a mild improvement over 2007’s The Heartbreak Kid, but there’s no denying Hall Pass should in theory be a much funnier experience than it actually is.
Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis) are two middle aged friends caught in passionless existences, their wives Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Grace (Christina Applegate) having lost their sexual tenacity due to the trials and tribulations of age and motherhood. In a bid to prevent any permanent damage being done to the respective marriages, both wives decide to grant the boys a “hall pass”, gifting the horny duo with a week away from the confines of matrimony. Maggie and Grace take themselves out of town, leaving Fred and Rick to bully their way through bars and various other social establishments in search of sex. The week brings more trouble than carnal delight, causing Rick and Fred to reassess their priorities. However with their spouses being romanced elsewhere, has their epiphany occurred too late?
The Farrellys appear to have lost their creative touch for gross-out tomfoolery, Hall Pass blundering through some very stale territory in search of giggles. Nothing here approaches the hair gel gag in There’s Something About Mary, whilst the welcome energy found in efforts like Dumb and Dumber just isn’t present. Instead the film bombards audiences with obvious poop and knob jokes, there’s even a wacky sequence in which the protagonists ingest a bag of narcotic filled pastries. This strain of humor confirms the disappointingly formulaic approach evident in Hall Pass, there’s very little enthusiasm radiating from either the script or direction. Every so often the Farrellys find their footing with a titter worthy line of dialogue or sight gag, before promptly slipping back into the mire of mediocre comedy that envelops the enterprise. Hall Pass is only good for a handful of smirks and chortles; I can honestly say the film doesn’t provide even one certifiably hilarious belly laugh.
The cast are familiar at best and lazy at worst. Wilson at least attempts to embrace the picture’s more sensitive side, although his comic timing feels a little rusty in spots. Sudeikis is clearly game for anything, yet his actual performance feels bland, the actor failing to register much of a personality. He definitely has to endure the brunt of the film’s more humiliating set-pieces, and for that I applaud him, but that doesn’t alter the fact his portrayal of the character is dull. Together these guys are no better than adequate, marking a fairly unmemorable leading combination. Jenna Fischer sleepwalks through Hall Pass until the project’s admittedly cute climax, her and Wilson at least sending the movie out on a surprisingly charming note. Applegate on the other hand nails Grace, lacing the character with a believable sense of inner discomfort and a whiplash way with biting remarks. She’s both entertaining and affecting, the film benefitting notably from her participation. Talented folks like Stephen Merchant and Richard Jenkins patrol the production’s sidelines, but are hamstrung by the lackluster material they’re forced to work with.
Hall Pass has one major redeeming feature, the movie’s representation of classical domestic lifestyles ringing rather true. The Farrellys takes a conservative yet somewhat compelling stance on life in suburbia, making the occasional astute observation to help elevate the overall product. I was shocked to see the filmmakers treat this component of the movie with such respect and fascination, even if it does all sit a little unevenly with the project’s relentlessly vulgar mentality. In this regard Hall Pass does somewhat warp any preconceived expectations, freshening up an otherwise blunt final product.
It’s hard to recommend Hall Pass as even a DVD rental; it does after all mostly fail as a broad farce. Still, it would be unjust to label the film worthless, despite the obvious decline in its creators’ comic abilities. Hall Pass does showcase the Farrelly Brothers attempting to mature, which is at the very least intriguing to observe. I doubt they’ll ever produce another lowbrow smash like There’s Something About Mary, yet on the basis of this there’s hope they might one day offer another picture of genuine value. Unfortunately Hall Pass isn’t it.
Directors: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly
Stars: Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Christina Applegate, Stephen Merchant
Runtime: 105 min