In Hall Pass, Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis play Rick and Fred, party animals long ago domesticated by marriage. If you couldn’t tell from the reminiscent gleam in their eye, you might be able to from their past photos, in which the actors’ heads are ridiculously Photoshopped onto hard bodies of youth.
Despite respectively happy hitchings to Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Grace (Christina Applegate), the minds of these married men are consumed by the imagined thrill of one more — just one more — hassle-free tryst with a hottie. So much so that Maggie and Grace, seeing no other option to deal with their horndog hangups, grant Rick and Fred a “hall pass” — a weeklong vacation from marriage during which the guys can do what they want … including other women. The reverse psychology is that if they remove the taboo, they remove the obsession.
There’s plenty of potential for sparks in a premise about the often-inexplicable idiocy of a guy’s primal wiring. Curb Your Enthusiasm hung an entire season on it. The major problem is that the Farrelly Brothers — working hard to hit a new career low after 2007’s rancid The Heartbreak Kid — blow a fuse with something that’s too hostile and hurtful when it should be hilarious and heartfelt. (Plus, no one in Hall Pass even tries to save the movie as Malin Akerman did in Heartbreak.)
Before Hall Pass paints them as good-natured nudniks who really do respect their vows of marriage, Rick and Fred spout off uncharacteristically nasty things about their wives and families. And they aren’t remarks Rick and Fred don’t really believe, uttered only to save face in front of any crass-talking friends. The delicate balance of sweet and sass the Farrellys once mastered has tipped into careless cruelty. As for the rest of the movie, it’s straight-up sitcom territory with the R-rated leeway for crap to splatter on a wall and Wilson to suggest, in one scene, that his daughter is cockblocking him.
During an interminable final hour, Hall Pass exploits its roaming privileges — boringly bouncing back and forth between Rick & Fred and Maggie & Grace, all behaving badly and some worse than others. (Don’t forget this lightbulb moment for one wife: “Oh my God. This hall pass. It was never for him. It was for me.”) As buddies to Rick and Fred, J.B. Smoove and Stephen Merchant pop in for a handful of light laughs, then virtually disappear after 45 minutes. And nothing comes of a potentially funny subplot involving a creepy DJ / barista (Derek Waters), other than to propel Hall Pass into a noisy, desperate finale of gunfire and car chases.
The softie finish should come as no shock to those who’ve found their way to the gooey center of any other Farrelly film. But Hall Pass speaks less about sexual politics than about how much the Farrellys are now sucking wind trying to keep pace with their new comic contemporaries. If only Hall Pass were a TV pilot that kept the pace of Rick and Fred’s first two days of freedom; running eight minutes, there would only be 20 left of what would likely be the only episode to air. You will not provide your own laugh track.
Available as a Blu-ray / DVD / digital copy combo, Hall Pass has a technically adequate presentation for a mid-level comedy such as this — the visual transfer clean and the lossless audio milquetoast save for the occasional club scene, fired bullet or screeching tire. It also boasts an extended cut that pushes the film further toward the two-hour mark (to no noticeable benefit). Extras are anemic, so much so that it seems even the Farrellys have disavowed their film. The only extras are “an outrageous additional scene” with Richard Jenkins (who pops up as a guru of getting laid) and a “hilarious” gag reel.