Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hall Pass (2011)

1 Sheet_2_2

Hall Pass
Dir. Bobby and Peter Farrelly

2 out of 5

Purveyors of comic scatology and sentimentality alike, the Farrelly Brothers haven't changed much since their feature debut seventeen(!) years ago. Hall Pass is the latest reminder that, in a post-Apatow world, it's just not enough to string together poop jokes and cringe-inducing slapstick and call it a comedy. The film seems to exist in a vacuum where Epic/Date/Disaster Movie never happened.

But before I make a comparison that I'll regret, I should point out that Hall Pass makes an attempt at a coherent narrative: two married men with wandering eyes (Owen Wilson; Jason Sudekis) are given permission - for reasons involving the dubious advice of Joy Behar1 - by their wives (Jenna Fischer; Christina Applegate) to take a one-week vacation from their marriages. The idea is that, softened by domesticity, Sudekis and Wilson will be utterly embarrassed in attempting to sow their wild oats.2 And while they are predictably inept when it comes to carousing - their first idea of a hot pickup spot is Applebee's - they are undaunted. Really, they can't afford to be. One week isn't a particularly long time.

It does, however, feel like an eternity when the movie so eagerly scrapes the bottom of the comedy barrel and gropes for laughs with a script that was probably once a thesis titled "Men Are This, But Women Are Like This." The problems are compounded by the Farrellys' puzzling inclusion of several non-sequitur gags and scenes that tax the audience's tolerance for poorly-conceived crudity. A good dirty joke is emphatic and purposeful, but Hall Pass prefers to scatter them about in the most discomforting fashion. Even scenes that exist for the simplest purposes, like bringing together Wilson and his potential conquest, an attractive Australian barista (Nicky Whelan), at the gym veer in desperate and unflattering directions.

Of course, Hall Pass never strays too far from the notion that Wilson and Sudekis are just goofy, harmless guys who, unlike their lothario friend (a baffling Richard Jenkins), have no idea what to do with their temporary sexual permissiveness. The result is affable boredom, characterized best in the casting of Wilson and Fischer as a married couple. They regard each other across a gulf of mutual vacancy. Sudekis fares better, much more believable as a horndog here than in Horrible Bosses, simply because the Farrellys refuse him much dignity. But, if the wildly devolved approach on display in Hall Pass is any indication, they should have saved some for themselves.

1 Behar’s performance is distractingly awkward, like she is fighting the impulse to look directly into the camera. She is summarily out-acted by everyone in the film, including extras and former Boston Red Sox outfielder Dwight Evans.

2 Because who needs stupid counseling when you can release your husbands into the loving embrace of adultery?

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