(by Dustin Putman
"Hall Pass" hinges on a premise that is inherently icky and off-putting, but it is made all the worse by two lead characters who are set up from the start as thoroughly obnoxious and unpleasant. For writer-directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly, who began their careers making broad, often raunchy comedies that held an underlying sweetness (e.g., 1995's "Dumb & Dumber," 1998's "There's Something About Mary," 2000's "Me, Myself & Irene," 2001's "Shallow Hal"), they have either become horribly jaded in recent years or simply desperate for fresh material. With 2007's "The Heartbreak Kid" and now "Hall Pass," they have traded a beating heart for utter crassness and numbskull plotting. As mean-spirited as "The Heartbreak Kid" was, though, at least it got off to a hopeful start and offered numerous genuinely funny moments in its first half. The Farrellys' latest misfire can't even attest to that much. Article continues below
Real estate agent Rick (Owen Wilson) and best friend Fred (Jason Sudeikis) are two peas in a pod, married, respectively, to Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Grace (Christina Applegate) but never more than a glance away from objectifying and creepily ogling every good-looking woman they see. Tired of their husbands' wandering eyes and sensing that the heat in their relationships has all but disappeared completely, Maggie and Grace take the advice of neighborhood friend and therapist Dr. Lucille Gilbert (Joy Behar) and grant Rick and Fred seven days to live the single life and do what they want. These guys don't know how to take the news at first, then become gung-ho at the thought of living it up like college guys. What they gradually discover, however, is that experiencing the single life at age forty isn't quite the same as when they were half that age.
"Hall Pass" is structurally and subjectively ill-advised from top to bottom. Judging by the evidence on display, Bobby and Peter Farrelly have missed the point of their characters' marital afflictions; the biggest problem isn't that the two sets of spouses have hit a rut in their relationships, sexual or otherwise, but that Rick and Fred are simply disrespectful, uncouth pricks. A vacation from marriage isn't going to solve the fact that Maggie and Grace will still have to put up with these jerks once the week is out. It's one thing for a person's eye to innocently wander as they walk down the street, it's quite another for them to exclaim things like, "Look at this buffet of ass!" while announcing that they're taking mental pictures for their spank bank. Rick's and Fred's behavior doesn't stop there; early on, Maggie overhears them via the baby monitor talking about how they wouldn't even have to be paid to agree to sex with another woman. Soon after, while the four of them are visiting the nice home of another married couple, the hosts and other guests look on as the surveillance camera picks up Rick and Fred in another part of the house making fun of all of them, including the hosts' children. These two not only don't deserve their wives, they don't deserve anyone.
While Maggie and Grace are away at the former's parent's beach house, becoming tempted in their own ways by very different men, Rick's and Fred's rabid voyage of "catching some tail" doesn't quite turn out as planned. On their first night, they overeat at Applebee's and get tired. On their second day, they make the mistake of eating pot brownies while golfing and get too toasted to make further leeway on their mission. After another outing of clubgoing, drinking and, for Fred, getting punched in the face, they waste the next whole day sleeping off their hangovers and injuries. With the exception of the "Law & Order" scene-transition sound effect counting down the seven days of their hall passes, the film is very close to creatively bankrupt, its comic ploys obvious, predictable and lazy. One scene where Rick goes to a health club and falls asleep in the jacuzzi ends with him being saved by two nude male patrons, the camera lingering in close-up on their penises. Nudity is not funny unless a twist of some sort is put on the situation; when it's just gratuitously thrown in and expected to be amusing solely because a naked body part is being shown, it is the result of a grade-school mentality and a desperate lack of imagination. The same might be said about an annoying subplot involving a coffee shop employee (Derek Waters) holding a grudge on the guys who turns to destroying their property and attempting to physically assault them. This goes nowhere fast, but screenwriters Bobby and Peter Farrelly, along with Pete Jones and Kevin Barnett, keep returning to it as if there's a purpose or comic angle to their senseless destruction.
Sporting a woeful haircut that does him no favors, Owen Wilson (2010's "How Do You Know") is an affable, usually pleasing presence who is neither affable nor pleasing as Rick. As the even more dirtbaggy Fred, Jason Sudeikis (2010's "The Bounty Hunter") is insufferable, though it could potentially be the fault of the role rather than the actor himself. Jenna Fischer (2007's "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story") and Christina Applegate (2010's "Going the Distance") are hurt by bland characterizations as wives Maggie and Grace, their week apart from their hubbies treated more like an afterthought until the Farrellys try—too late—to go all gooey. As a lifelong, now-over-the-hill single guy who shows Fred and Rick the ropes, the invaluable Richard Jenkins (2010's "Eat Pray Love") is given so little to do there ought to be a law created against wasting such a great character actor. Virtually the only saving grace the movie has in its arsenal is Nicky Whelan (2009's "Halloween II"), stunningly beautiful and naturally charismatic in equal measure. As Leigh, a sweet-natured barista whom Rick takes a chance in pursuing, Whelan lights up the screen and has the added benefit of being one of the few truly virtuous, sensible-minded characters in sight. Whenever she's on screen, the film suddenly perks up; when she's off it, the viewer wishes the story were centering around her instead.
"Hall Pass" should have, at the very least, been a breezy 98-minute diversion, the sort of frothy comedy that's easy to take even if there's not a lot to truly take from it. Instead, the picture is noxious in the extreme, growing into an endurance test the longer one has to spend with these two louts posing as protagonists. As morally questionable and just plain wrongheaded as "Hall Pass" is, there will be few audience members who won't know where things are headed. Of course, Rick and Fred—and, for that matter, Maggie and Grace—are going to realize just how precious their spouses are to them. Of course, they are going to have second thoughts about going through with affairs. Of course, they will discover that being single isn't all it's cracked up to be. Of course. The obligatory climactic make-ups, including a potentially affecting one between Rick and Maggie, come too late to rectify the complete absence of chemistry between them prior to this. The film makes the grave mistake in the first act of not properly depicting the love these two couples have for one another in their relationships; instead, they're made to look like they ought to be scheduling an appointment with divorce court. Toss in some laughably phoney photoshopped pictures of Rick and Maggie as college students, a wise-talking daughter who speaks like no child in the history of the earth ever has, and side characters whose job it is too preen and mug for the camera, and what you have is a prime example of yet another Judd Apatow rip-off gone wrong. It's sad when the comedic highlight of a film is a scene in which a woman's sneeze causes her to projectile defecate all over the wall behind her, but such is the case with "Hall Pass."