Title: Hall Pass
Directed By: Bobby and Peter Farrelly
Starring: Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate, Nicky Whelan, Richard Jenkins, Stephen Merchant, Larry Joe Campbell, Bruce Thomas, Tyler Hoechlin, Alexandra Daddario
Have you ever laughed at a joke, thought about it again and get angry at yourself for laughing at something so cheap, demeaning or derogatory? If not, go check out Hall Pass. When you’re not cringing at the lack of originality and wasted talent, you’re giggling at cut-rate gags that have no chance of earning a laugh the second time around. The fact that you could only get a viewer to laugh by having a character sneeze and poop at the same time is nothing to brag about.
Rick and Fred (Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis) are happily married. Well, kind of. They love their wives, but just can’t help themselves when it comes to looking at or talking crudely about other women. Eventually the sneak peaks and dirty talk becomes too much for their wives, Maggie and Grace (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate) respectively, and they decide to issue their men “hall passes.” For one week, Rick and Fred are marriage free. They can do (pun intended) whatever they’d like and it won’t matter.
Turns out, touching isn’t as easy as looking and even with their coveted hall passes, the boys have some trouble sealing the deal – or even initiating it for that matter. Meanwhile, Maggie and Grace are busy spending a relaxing weekend out in Cape Cod. Little do the guys know, their ladies aren’t just indulging in some girl time, but a college baseball team. The team coach warms up to Maggie, and Grace gets her hall pass on cougar-style with a young player.
You can probably fill in the rest of that brief synopsis for yourselves, because Hall Pass is as formulaic as they come. After being drowned in crude humor for 90% of the film, guess what? Everyone actually learns something and I’d like to bet most of you could probably guess that revelation even without seeing the film. Okay, it’s doubtful anyone’s going to check out Hall Pass for some deep and meaningful material, but what’s wrong with having a little depth and class alongside your penis and poop jokes?
Apparently goofy hairdos and tacky clothing was all that’s necessary in terms of character development, because the Farrelly brothers take a pass on just about every opportunity to give their leading duo any depth. Right from the start we’re force fed some calculated scenario during which Rick and Fred demonstrate their love for the ladies and nothing more. Even worse, the first act of the film also includes Rick’s kids and while they’re super cute, that doesn’t earn them a hall pass for bad acting; they’re distracting and unnecessary.
Hall Pass continues to cruise along at rock bottom, delivering every bit of exposition through the dialogue. Who wants to hear about how Fred was forced to apologize to a group of friends after delivering a grotesquely embarrassing speech about private parts? We want to see it! But, no. Instead we get exactly what the trailers said we’d get with a few recycled jokes in the mix. Sorry, Peter and Bobby; Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg used the Baby Gap joke in Superbad and it was better.
What makes the film tolerable are the performances. Rick and Fred aren’t much of a stretch for Wilson and Sudeikis and it works. However, they’re basically on autopilot the whole film simply doing what they’re told and not bringing any real zest to their characters. The predictability kills a significant amount of the gags and the only moments that are truly funny hit hard because they’re so unexpected. Regrettably, that means only laughing at those poop and penis jokes. Oh, the woes of seeing an unoriginal comedy.
As for the ladies, we’ve got two actresses on opposite ends of the spectrum. Applegate makes for the perfect complement to Wilson and Sudeikis. She’s a downright natural and has an on-screen charge that can overpower even the lamest excuse for dialogue. On the other hand, Fischer drowns in it from beginning to end and I don’t mean the dialogue, rather the entire endeavor of acting. Not only is her character painfully cliché and uninteresting, but Fischer makes her more so by just reading her lines. Who wouldn’t want a hall pass when they’re married to such a bore?
Luckily the supporting cast makes up for some of the lull. The best of the bunch is Stephen Merchant who plays Gary, Rick and Fred’s British pal. There’s something incredibly intriguing about him right from the start. He dresses as though he’d be the group stick-in-the-mud, but then his actions suggest otherwise. He’s a character that keeps you guessing and in a film like this, that’s one heck of a ray of light. Alexandra Daddario steps up as well playing Rick and Maggie’s babysitter Pagie. All the credit for this character goes to the actress herself because not only is Pagie your typical sorority girl, but her plotline gets quite nonsensical towards the end. However, it’s quite clear that Daddario’s giving 100% to the character and it makes her lively, likable and all around fun to watch.
From a technical standpoint, there’s no better word to describe this film as standard. As formulaic as the plot is, is as traditional as the camera coverage is. There’s absolutely nothing visually stimulating. We go from a shot of Wilson to a shot of Sudeikis, to a shot of both and back again. The more talented members of the cast like Wilson, Sudeikis and Applegate can handle this to a point, but in Fischer’s case, it makes her character duller – if that’s even possible at this point. Some of the editing works quite well, making for ideal comedic timing, but when not used specifically to enhance a joke, it’s as bland as the camera work.
Yes, Hall Pass has a handful of laugh-out-loud moments, but are they worth sitting through all of the film’s shortcomings? Probably not, but as compared to some of the other buddy comedies we’ve seen over the past year, Hall Pass is certainly not the worse. Then again, that’s not really much of a compliment.
By Perri Nemiroff