That the Farrelly Brothers’ Hall Pass isn’t as egregiously awful as I had expected isn’t a comment on the quality of this comedy, since everything I’d heard about the movie beforehand pointed to an act of desperation on the part of the Farrellys as a means of regaining the popularity of their ‘90s heyday. From a quality standpoint, this isn’t the movie to take them back to the Promised Land. And judging from the box office, it seems even more unlikely.
While there’s a return to the gross-out gags of stuff like There’s Something About Mary (1998) and Me, Myself & Irene (2000), the Farrellys also temper this with a gentler side. On the surface, this is a movie about marriage, and unfortunately, one that too often feels and—worst of all—looks like a sitcom. Hall Pass very much earns its R-rating, with nudity, sex and gags involving everything from diarrhea to full-frontal male nudity. The raunch is cranked up, but the overall tone is very much in the realm of Judd Apatow, in that there’s a supposed mature side that rears its head in the final act. Unfortunately, the only lessons taught by the film fall squarely into what Rex Harrison described in Preston Sturges’ Unfaithfully Yours (1948), as a movie that “questioned the necessity of marriage for eight reels and then concluded it was essential in the ninth.”
A predictable plot isn’t a surprise, as we get Owen Wilson as Rick, a seemingly happily married man who’s a bit more sex obsessed than his wife (Jenna Fischer, TV’s The Office) would like. So she gives him a hall pass, which translates into a week off from marriage to do whatever—with whomever—he pleases. So, along with his often crude best friend Fred (Saturday Night Live‘s Jason Sudekis), Rick heads out into the world a free man. Of course, things aren’t as simple as Rick and Fred had hoped, and their various attempts at gaining the affections of the fairer sex simply lead to various hijinks.
It’s pretty obvious where all this is rolling towards, with its cop-out ending and all, but this isn’t the film’s main purpose—it’s to be funny. Unfortunately, Hall Pass’ material doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain, since beyond a handful of gags (like the idea of Richard Jenkins as a bronzed womanizer), the film is a generous heaping of crass juvenilia.
The movie, in short, just isn’t that funny, but it does manage to skirt being completely awful, thanks somewhat surprisingly to the Farrellys, who—even though they’re trading in stupidity—don’t strike me as stupid. The most interesting aspect of the film is that it’s really, deep down, a movie about trying to figure out how to fit in as you get older. These are, after all, characters who think Applebee’s is a place to meet swinging singles. Hall Pass can be seen as the cinematic equivalent of their current career, a movie that’s out of step with current trends made by guys trying to fit in somewhere in world of film, about guys who just don’t understand where they belong anymore. Whether this is on purpose or not is debatable, but there are just enough flashes of wit here and there to believe that this isn’t giving the brothers Farrelly too much credit. However, it remains one of the few interesting aspects of a pretty unfunny comedy. Rated R for crude and sexual humor throughout, language, some graphic nudity and drug use.