First off, let me try and clear up just what the movie “Hall Pass” is, since a friend and I were having some difficulties with that before the film began. It doesn’t star Vince Vaughn. Or Adam Sandler. Judd Apatow has nothing to do with it. One thing we weren’t sure about was whether Ed Helms was in it, but once it started we realized the Ed Helms part was being played by Jason Sudeikis. (Bro movies have officially passed chick flicks in terms of Hollywood saturation.)
“Hall Pass” is the latest film from the Farrelly brothers. Some might call it a return to form since their last few films (“Fever Pitch” and “The Heartbreak Kid”) were relatively gross-out free. I suppose that’s true. But it certainly isn’t a return to form in terms of funny.
Owen Wilson stars as Rick, husband and father of three kids with wife Maggie (Jenna Fischer). He’s got a wandering eye. So does his best friend Fred (Sudeikis), despite a child-free marriage to Grace (Christina Applegate). It is presented that the guys want more sex than their wives are willing to provide, and the wives, fearing a growing resentment in their husbands, take a friend’s advice (said friend is played by Joy Behar, and the less said about her performance, the better) to give their guys a one-week break from marriage, the titular “hall pass.” (The title is presented about 50 times within the course of the movie, thus reinforcing the fact that this is not an actual thing that exists but merely a movie creation.)
That the husbands are not knee-deep in tail over the course of their week of freedom is the platform for the film’s comedy. That the wives actually are is the platform for the film’s pathos. Both crumble. The Farrellys built their brand on comedy that is filled with scatological humor, borderline homophobia and its requisite dick jokes, political incorrectness, and all around shock comedy. And at one point, that stuff actually worked. But in “Hall Pass” it just hangs there like a giant limp dick. (Literally: that is one of the film’s “biggest” jokes, and for some it is apparently enough to elicit rollicking laughter GUY SITTING IN THE SAME ROW AS ME.)
That the movie falters in ways other than comedy is probably beside the point, but it should be noted that its female characters are mere sketches; everyone in the movie has the same weird, fake tan orange glow; and one of the only laughs I can remember having was at how bad the Photoshopping was during a scene featuring a photo album.
Back in 1998 I went to see “There’s Something About Mary” during its opening weekend. The film had rave reviews, and it was a packed house. I was with a bunch of friends, most of them guys, and we were all laughing, a lot, pretty much from the very start of the movie. Well, almost all of us. About 20 minutes into the film my friend Oliver just got up, walked out of the theater and never came back. He met us all in the lobby after it was over and we found out he had spent the remainder of the film’s running time sitting outside on the curb, reading the paper.
At the time, I just couldn’t understand how he, or anyone, wouldn’t think the movie was absolutely hilarious. But in watching “Hall Pass” I finally understood what my friend Oliver must have felt back in 1998: annoyed, incredulous, and, ultimately, a little sad.