Hall Pass: Film Review

Warner Bros.
The gross-outs stick out in the Farrellys’ spotty new comedy.

Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis star as two fortysomethings attempting to play the field in the Farrellys' latest comedy, out in theaters Friday.

The strain of the Farrelly brothers’ attempt to live up to their rudely comic younger selves is all too evident in Hall Pass, an unbecoming and only fitfully funny account of two fortyish married guys making a final pathetic shot at playing the field.

The story’s central premise — would you, or could you, cheat if given explicit permission for a limited period? — possesses genuine fantasy appeal. However, the Farrellys seem fatally torn between making a grown-up farce with a heartfelt message and delivering the gross-outs expected of them, leaving the film in an unsatisfying, vaguely depressing no man’s land. Unexpectedly, this jokey expose of male foibles and female vulnerabilities might play better to women than to men, but overall commercial prospects look middling.

Comically fixated on the plight of fellows whose wives fall asleep — or pretend to — in order to avoid nocturnal marital duties, this is very much a film from a frustrated middle-aged male point of view. For Rick (Owen Wilson), the dilemma is exacerbated by having three young kids, and his best pal Fred (Jason Sudeikis) sums up their attitude with the rhetorical query, “Doesn’t it bother you that all of our wives’ dreams come true and ours don’t?” But the real problem for them, as well as for their mates Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Grace (Christina Applegate), respectively, is the sense of being taken for granted, of no longer feeling desired.

This is a universal predicament that eventually gives birth here to the moral that you should appreciate what you have. But Peter and Bobby Farrelly, working with co-writers Pete Jones and Kevin Barnett, serve it with a gimmick: Fed up with their husbands’ undisguised ogling of sexy women, Maggie and Grace issue their hubbies a “hall pass,” which entitles the boys to do whatever they want with whomever they want for a week, during which time they’ll stay out at the beach on Cape Cod.

Punch-drunk with surprise at this offer, the guys scarcely know what to say or do, which is the beginning of the film’s numerous problems. How do they spend their first night of liberty? Pigging out with their three equally clueless poker buddies at Appleby’s. When the boys then waste another day with some dreadfully unfunny shenanigans at a country club (as if they would find any action there), the suspicion develops that the Farrellys have no better idea how to plot their movie than the guys have about how to go about picking up girls.

It’s under this cloud of desperation that the filmmakers finally drop their first trademark o-bomb (“o” as in outrageous) in a male nude scene around a health club Jacuzzi; the sequence and the in-your-face genital close-ups come out of nowhere and feel cynically included just to provide the sort of WTF moment that, at least since There’s Something About Mary, audiences hope for from the Farrellys. A second equally arbitrary passage, one that can be categorized under extreme potty humor, involves a wasted date’s accidental misuse of hotel bathroom facilities.

By this point, Rick has realized that his best shot at fulfilling his fantasy lies with Leigh (Nicky Whelan, who could pass for Brooklyn Decker’s Australian sister), an ultra-friendly barista at his favorite cafe. When the moment of truth arrives, Rick’s got to sort out his true priorities, while Fred gets himself into a more unusual predicament. What the guys don’t know, and are probably better off not knowing, is how extensively their wives have been fraternizing with some good-looking minor league baseball players up on the Cape.

The slapstick and action comedy interludes are haphazardly executed at best, and matters aren’t helped by the film’s incredibly ugly look; for whatever reason, the productions from New Line Cinema since its absorption by Warner Bros. appear poorly lighted, processed and/or printed, resulting in blotchy, bleachy results that do no favors to the actors.

Looking pale, pasty and out of shape, Wilson lacks his usual sense of sneaky stealth behind the affability, and his mere presence makes one yearn for the sort of genuine mischief he helped provoke in Wedding Crashers. Saturday Night Live regular Sudeikis supplies energy and enthusiasm if not inspired intangibles, while Fischer is the picture of the desirable middle-class wife and mom. Applegate’s childless wife represents more of a question mark, as, without a few clues about this woman, it’s impossible to guess what she’s about. In a surprising bit of casting against type, Richard Jenkins turns up late as an aging swinger full of cunning tips for his would-be proteges.

The Farrellys’ beloved native Rhode Island has unfortunately been doubled here by Atlanta and environs, obviously for financial reasons.

Opens: Friday, Feb. 25 (Warner Bros.)
Production: New Line Cinema, Conundrum Entertainment
Cast: Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate, Nicky Whelan, Richard Jenkins, Stephen Merchant, Larry Joe Campbell, Bruce Thomas, Tyler Hoechlin, Derek Waters, Alexandra Daddario
Directors: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly
Screenwriters: Pete Jones, Peter Farrelly, Kevin Barnett, Bobby Farrelly, story by Pete Jones
Producers: Bradley Thomas, Charles B. Wessler, Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly
Executive producers: Toby Emmerich, Richard Brener, Merideth Finn, Mark S. Fischer
Director of photography: Matthew F. Leonetti
Production designer: Arlan Jay Vetter
Costume designer: Denise Wingate
Editor: Sam Seig
R rating, 105 minutes