Silver Screen: Hall Pass *1/2
Grossout kings Peter and Bobby Farrelly botch an interesting concept in Hall Pass, a limp sex comedy and uncommitted examination of the potential pitfalls of marriage.
Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis costar as best pals Rick and Fred, a pair of excruciatingly average schlubs living out the cul-de-sac dream with their uncommonly attractive wives Maggie and Grace (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate)-- although the men seem far more devoted to one another than their beautiful betrotheds. They occupy most of their time ogling other women and obsessing about sex, something neither of them think they're getting nearly enough of at home.
At the behest of an older, wiser friend (The View's Joy Behar, pretty much just playing The View's Joy Behar), the ladies decide to indulge their husbands in what the men believe to be their dream: They'll go to Maggie's parents' house in Cape Cod for one week, during which time the boys get a seven-day exemption from monogamy.
It's a potentially daring premise for a movie, one the Farrellys briefly mine for character insights and comic potential before using as an engine to power a vehicle for the genital-and-excrement-based sightgags for which they were once famous.
For the first forty-five minutes the Farrellys, working off a script cowritten by Kevin Barnett and the first Project Greenlight winner Pete Jones, maintain a light touch while seeming to genuinely engage with issues of marital strife and the realities of the middle-aged dating scene. Upon securing their freedom, Rick and Fred round up their posse (which includes two excellent comedians, Stephen Merchant and J.B. Smoove, as well as According to Jim tagalong Larry Joe Campbell) and go looking for ladies in their favorite hotspot: Applebee's. It's one of the movie's best sequences, as the braggadocio eventually gives way to nervousness and eventually indigestion following a wings-and-booze binge. Rick and Fred wind right back up at their rented hotel suite, sharing adjacent beds and eating ice cream, which is a recurring motif. It's rather revealing of the Farrellys' sensibilities that the two men, who seem frozen in adolescence, seem happiest when on the verge of declaring mutual affection and spending the night together.
It's worth noting, too, that the writer-director brother team doesn't ignore the womenfolk. Rather than shuffle out of the picture to allow the plot to unfold, Maggie and Grace get a story of their own. While Rick and Fred have lost the ability to pick up girls-- something we're to suspect they probably were never all that good at-- their sexy thirtysomething counterparts draw plenty of attention hanging out on the beach unescorted. (Poor, pretty Fischer, though, is bronzed into a burnt-orange monotone so that her hair, lips, skin, and eyes all seem to have the same tint, as though we were looking at her through a pair of particularly dark sunglasses.) Grace is wooed by a naï ve, musclebound minor-league baseball player, while Maggie takes an interest in the team's gruff, self-confident coach.
Once the movie reaches the halfway point, though, it all comes apart as the Farrellys bail on the moderately interesting storylines they've developed in favor of forced zaniness. A bit of saucy dialogue aside, Hall Pass begins like a fairly tame PG-13 comedy, so the proliferation of dangling dicks and splattered poo is both tonally dissonant and perfunctorily crude.
Hall Pass's defining feature, ultimately, is its laziness. In their best (and first) movie, Kingpin, Team Farrelly found three dimensions in characters who could easily have been ciphers: Woody Harrelson's washed-up bowling pro and Randy Quaid's sweet-natured Amish boy eager to cut loose. But in Hall Pass they take the simplest shortcuts and deal in the hoariest of cliché s, the lowest of which is a suburban-dad villain who wears a pastel sweater tied around his shoulders, the yuppie equivalent of a black hat. A sign around his neck that reads "Preppy Antagonist" would be subtler, but the artifice-world of Hall Pass is littered with such lazy signifier. It's telling that the film's most resonant scene is set in a corporate chain restaurant.
Despite the raunchy asides and naughty premise, the movie's sexual politics are resolutely red state. The concept of the hall pass is never treated as a potential solution but a kind of delusional hail-marriage pass, and in due time the promiscuous are lambasted as the blind in a kingdom of one-eyed married couples. It's not even that the movie's thesis is wrong, necessarily, but rather that the whole endeavor is a dodge, and the notion of an antisex-sex comedy is as flagrantly hypocritical as, say, a movie constructed of fat jokes that chastises the viewer for judging people by their looks (see the Farrellys' Shallow Hal-- or, rather, don't). That's the not-so-well-kept secret here: The Farrelly brothers have come not to bury suburbia, but to praise it.