Hall Pass


Owen Wilson as Rick
Jason Sudeikis as Fred
Jenna Fischer as Maggie
Christina Applegate as Grace
Nicky Whelan as Leigh
Richard Jenkins as Coakley
Stephen Merchant as Gary
Larry Joe Campbell as Hog-Head
Bruce Thomas as Rick Coleman
Tyler Hoechlin as Gerry
Derek Waters as Brent
Alexandra Daddario as Paige

It may be hard to believe but once upon a time it was considered shocking to show a toilet flushing with nothing in it. It required Alfred Hitchcock to come up with an actual reason why showing that was necessary and couldn’t be cut. We’ve come a long way since then, to the point where the point of being shocking is its sole purpose. And that can work, the first few times. After a while, that sort of thing loses its potency and if it has any hope of still working, needs connecting back to story itself.

It’s a problem the Farrelly brothers’ (“There’s Something About Mary”) career captures perfectly, and which their latest film “Hall Pass” falls hopelessly victim to.

Their initial work was… fresh doesn’t seem like a particularly good descriptor… different from what other people were doing, so it was easy to hide the conservative, tried and true nature of their stories. That’s not damning in and of itself, unless the situations become the soul reason for being at all, and the conservative original plots become out and out mindless.

Which is how you end up with “Hall Pass,” a particularly non-noteworthy sitcom episode gussied up in scatological humor, nudity and outré situations.

Rick (Owen Wilson) is your typical sitcom husband, a typical brainless male without the imagination to understand how he tries his wife’s (Jenna Fischer) patience and wonders why she can’t understand he’s just a guy, doomed to act as guys do. After embarrassing her in front of their friends with his immature behavior, she decides to give him a hall pass, a week off from marriage so that he can just ‘get it all out of his system.’

No one is expecting an in-depth look into what it takes to actually make a marriage work out of a Farrelly brothers film (or any relationship comedy about marriage, really). On the other hand, if you’re not going to bother with (or are capable of) that then you’re going to have to bring the funny, and “Hall Pass” is only humorous in fits and starts.

Some of it is the lack of empathy for the characters. Grotesque jokes are essential embarrassment jokes, finding humor in the main characters squirming, but that only works if you care about the main characters. Wilson’s Rick is so blasé and unremarkable that he doesn’t come off as offensive the way best friend Fred (Jason Sudeikis) does, but the fact that he listens to Fred at all makes it hard to care for him or the film. Partly because it is hard to care about stupid characters and partly because it is the cheapest form of comedic plotting, the best friend with obviously bad judgment who no one should ever listen to and yet who is trusted again and again for his ideas.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Fred gets most of the offensive dialogue and ends up in most of the worst situations like being stuck in a bathroom with a party-girl afflicted with a gastrointestinal disorder.

It’s not entirely depthless – while the husbands move into a hotel with the dreams of reclaiming their glory days in one short week, the wives head out of town and soon find their own ethics being tested after the members of a college baseball team begin to make them feel wanted again.

But it is terribly afflicted by outrageousness creep. The uniqueness of their sense of humor that covered up many of their story-telling weaknesses early on has long gone by the wayside, making their general conservatism more and more obvious and turning their over-the-top sense of humor into a sham. If the characters are going to be the focus of out of control ‘I can’t believe they did that’ humor then they need to be allowed to be out of control themselves, otherwise it’s forced and fake.

There are a few moments of the old Farrelly brothers in the film, but for the most part its trite and without anywhere near enough humor to cover up its flaws.