Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Hall Pass

The Farrelly brothers peaked in the 90s and it's been downhill ever since. Whether that peak was in 1994 with Dumb & Dumber or 1998 with There's Something About Mary can be debated — I'm pretty sure most would go with the former — but speaking as someone who's seen Me, Myself & Irene, Shallow Hal, Stuck on You, and now Hall Pass over the last decade (never got around to The Heartbreak Kid), I feel extremely confident in saying that the last good Farrelly bros film is long behind us. The likes of Judd Apatow and David Wain have taken the ribald, R-rated comedy ball and run with it, while the Farrellys have failed to keep pace with the times.

Hall Pass is about two married guys named Rick and Fred (Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis), both restless after years of monogamy to their wives Maggie and Grace (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate). But when Maggie overhears Rick talking with poker buddies about other women he wants to sleep with and Fred is caught jacking off in one of the movie's few funny scenes (a "caught masturbating" gag almost always tickles my funny bone outside of American Pie straight-to-DVD sequels), the two women take off on vacation, leaving Rick and Fred with the titular hall pass: a free invitation to sleep with other women for a week, no guilt, no questions, no strings attached.

The middle act mostly consists of Rick and Fred getting shot down by women and loafing around bored and anxious waiting for their wives to come back. Despite occasional attempts to salvage the film by Stephen Merchant and J.B. Smoove as two of their buddies, this whole act is spectacularly boring for what's supposed to be a raucous comedy. We get the standard Apatow-era comedic penis shot when Rick visits a gym hot tub and a scene where Fred goes to get a rub and tug at an Asian massage parlor that fizzles out into laugh-free anticlimax, but other than these two scenes there's barely even an attempt at a legitimately clever comedic set piece like the zipper or hair gel bits from Something About Mary. The film even goes to the long-drained well of having the guys get high and then showing them with red eyes being all high as if that's hilarious.

We also occasionally cut to Maggie and Grace during this time. I appreciate the Farrellys at least attempting to keep a female presence in the film, but the problem is they forgot to make these scenes funny at all. Jenna Fischer in particular is horribly underserved by the script, which tries to make her the film's wise character by giving her basically nothing resembling a gag or punchline in 105 minutes. As someone who watches her be funny on The Office most every week this was kind of a bummer.

Then after two acts of relative mellowness, Hall Pass suddenly mutates into a completely different, infinitely broader film for its supposedly comedic climax, which includes a crazed gunman, a car chase, and an explosion of projectile diarrhea suddenly coating a bathroom wall. It's all very "90s wacky." This act also features the obligatory scene where the saucy Australian girl who's been flirting with Rick the whole movie exposes her breasts, and while I don't want to give the impression that I object to exposed breasts, the way they're revealed in this case almost feels like "here's your reward for sitting through our shitty movie."

Owen Wilson is inoffensive but completely nondescript. Fifty other comic actors could have done the role and nothing would have been lost. And I feel kind of bad saying this since he seems like a pleasant enough guy, but Jason Sudeikis isn't unique or funny enough to be anchoring feature films. I don't mind him in roles like Floyd on 30 Rock, but he just doesn't have that big screen charisma. He has another lead role coming up in Horrible Bosses in a few months — this time across from Jason Bateman, which is certainly a step up from Owen Wilson — and I'll give him a second chance, but that's my impression after Hall Pass. Why is he being given lead roles while Bill Hader has yet to rise above bit player in a live-action movie? Hollywood's mining the wrong SNL talent.

Hall Pass is a movie that somehow feels both sleepy and bland yet overly cartoony and like it's trying hard to be filthy while just becoming more quaint and precious with each attempt, like a kindergardener trying to offend you by swearing. With as much good comedy as there is filling the airwaves of television every week there's certainly no reason for anyone to waste their time with it.

1 Star out of 5

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