Mark Reviews Movies


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly

Cast: Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate, Nicky Whelan, Richard Jenkins

MPAA Rating: R (for crude and sexual humor throughout, language, some graphic nudity and drug use)

Running Time: 1:45

Release Date: 2/25/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | February 24, 2011

As the Farrelly brothers, Peter and Bobby, have attempted to evolve as storytellers, abandoning the farce of their peak output for a more character-driven sensibility, they have, in fact, lost the edge that set them up as the kings of the extended gag. There are shadows of their past in Hall Pass, particularly one bit that takes a seemingly throwaway line about the sexual desperation of one character and plays it out to its pathetic extreme, but the rest of the long-form jokes are old standbys or false starts.

The setup is rife with potential, as two married men fantasize about their respective pasts as single men, only to be confronted head-on with how futile the attempt to recapture the glory days really is. Within this bubble of collective denial, the two main characters are isolated from judgment of their chauvinistic actions and attitude, simply by virtue of lacking any tangible sense of self-awareness. The fact that we only laugh at them and their folly is forgivable, since it is so heartily deserved.

The two men are Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis), best friends since time immemorial. They are married, respectively, to Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Grace (Christina Applegate), who get together and laugh at how their husbands check out other women right in front of them. A psychologist friend (Joy Behar) recommends the two women give their husbands a "hall pass," a week off from marriage during which the boys can go out and do whatever (and, by extension, whomever) they want. She tried it with her own husband, and they haven't been happier.

Maggie has had enough with Rick's blasť attitude toward their marriage and gives him carte blanche for a week of freedom from marriage. Grace soon follows suit, and Rick and Fred plan out a week of single living, with their friends tagging along to live vicariously through their exploits.

The last straw for Grace comes in the scene I hinted to before. At one point, as Rick and Fred commiserate about having to masturbate while they're married, Fred mentions that, to hide his late-night activity from his wife, he gets in the family car, turns on the radio, and has at it (It reminds him of when he lost his virginity). Later on, we cut to Fred, sitting in the car parked in front of the house, listening to Styx, and you can guess the rest.

The image itself is amusing enough, and then the stakes are raised. A string of double-takes, including a vehicular one, ensue, as Fred, oblivious to his surroundings, is eyeballed and mocked by the last people anyone would want to be caught by with his pants down in public.

As their newfound freedom begins, of course there's a minor reference and foreshadow to what will inevitably become the moral of the story, as Rick ponders, "Just because your wife says it's ok to cheat, does that make it ok?" The concern is out the window until he's directly confronted with the possibility of actually following through, and until that point, the screenplay (by the directors and Pete Jones and Kevin Barnett) sets them on the hunt for women. The scenario works best during the early part of their week off, as they settle into the places in which they're comfortable now. Instead of a club, they make their way to the bar at a chain restaurant, gorging themselves on food and heading to bed before 10 o'clock at night.

The simple jokes, like a shot of Rick and Fred passed out in their beds at the hotel room where they're staying for the week for an entire day after the tiring previous one, work best here, and the screenplay struggles as the pair completely loses focus on their goal. There's a rambling day at a golf course after eating too many marijuana-laced brownies (The joke of accidental or unintentional drug use has really become a pitiful crutch to get characters to do wacky things and rarely works; it doesn't here). Fred's trip to a massage parlor for a "happy ending" is a setup with no punch line. The movie finds some life with the introduction of Richard Jenkins as a globe-trotting friend with a sixth sense for how women behave.

Then, naturally, Hall Pass gets on its high horse, as the buddies realize how hopeless they are without their wives (Who are, themselves, being wooed by other men, and wouldn't it be refreshing to watch them escape their loser husbands?). How it gets them to that point is contrived (a car crash (as punishment?) here, a car chase there), and no, we really don't care if they learn a lesson in the first place.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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