Sports usually play a part in their films, so let’s put it this way: “Hall Pass” is another swing-and-a-miss for Bobby and Peter Farrelly. The effusive raunch-comedy brothers have never been able to recapture the success of their first hits, “Dumb and Dumber” and “There’s Something About Mary,” and “Hall Pass” is another strained, overreaching attempt at it. We keep wanting to like these guys’ movies, but they’re not making it easy for us.
The premise is straight out of the Farrelly/Apatow/Kevin Smith/adolescent male fantasy playbook. Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis), two guys in their late 30s, are granted a “hall pass” by their wives that permits them to act as if they are unmarried for one week. The reasoning — as endorsed by their wives’ friend (Joy Behar), who’s a psychologist and therefore must know what she’s talking about — is that men are obsessive horndogs who are bound to cheat eventually; the hall pass lets them get it out of their systems without ruining the marriage. It’s the same principle as when parents let their teenagers drink at home, figuring it’s better to do it in a controlled environment than to be out sneaking around.
I guess this “hall pass” is really a thing? That people do? You tell your husband, “Go ahead and sleep with every woman you can for the next seven days, then come home and everything will go back to normal and there will never be any repercussions”? It’s one of those bad ideas that’s so obviously bad I can’t fathom why anyone would try it, except as an experiment to see how bad they can screw things up.
In any event, here it is. Rick’s wife, Maggie (Jenna Fischer), is the one who suggests it, after overhearing Rick joke with his friends about how much theoretical money they would hypothetically pay to have a week of freedom. (The sums were large.) Maggie takes the kids and heads to her parents’ place at Cape Cod. Fred’s wife, Grace (Christina Applegate), gives Fred the week off, too, and joins Maggie.
These guys, both total clods, cannot believe their good fortune. They are gonna get so much tail! Egged on by their jealous married buddies (every married man is constantly wishing he could have extramarital sex, as you know), they set out to conquer the town. The first joke is that their choice of hip, young places to seek out nubile sexual partners is Applebee’s. Maybe Olive Garden would be better? Or Chili’s? Don’t worry, the movie makes those jokes, too. The second joke is that they keep getting distracted by other things — eating junk food, playing golf, general horsing around — and neglecting to get down to business.
Yes, Rick and Fred are both buffoons with no sense of self-awareness. They try pick-up lines that, while funny, could not possibly work on anyone, ever. They aren’t too far removed from the Wild & Crazy Guys on the old “SNL” sketches. Rick thinks he has a shot with a scorchingly hot barista, Leigh (Nicky Whelan) — and since this is a movie made by men, for men, he actually DOES have a shot with her. Fred, in the sidekick role, sneaks off to a massage parlor, with predictably humiliating results.
Fortunately, while Rick and Fred are oblivious to their own idiocy, the movie is not. They’re married to Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate, for crying out loud! The film invites us to laugh at the guys — not with them, but at them — as they shuffle from one misadventure to the next, before they eventually learn their lessons. A few of these laughs are hearty enough; like most Farrelly brothers movies, this one has its moments. (The Farrellys and Kevin Barnett modified a screenplay written by Pete Jones, from HBO’s “Project Greenlight,” that they bought in 2005.) Jason Sudeikis, from “SNL,” plays Fred as exuberantly libidinous without becoming a Jack Black-style caricature (a direction the role could easily have gone), and comes off better than the material. There a couple instances of shock humor — a Farrelly staple — that are entirely unjustified and shouldn’t have been funny, but I admit I laughed at them.
Occupying a great deal of space between those good moments, though, is a lot of dead air. The movie feels like it’s stalling a lot of the time, repeating the same gags, before finally going completely off the deep end with a crazy subplot involving a gun. Meanwhile, the wives are at Cape Cod, where it occurs to them that maybe they have hall passes, too. Without getting into spoilers, it strikes me as unnecessarily cruel that the women get a somber, dramatic sort of comeuppance while their moron husbands — the ones who started this in the first place — get the comical, clownish kind. The Farrellys hedged their bets on whether to take marital infidelity seriously, when what they ought to have done is go all-out with the vulgar, one-dimensional slapstick, and leave it at that.
C (1 hr., 45 min.; )