Remember when the Farrelly Brothers made funny films? Remember "There's Something About Mary"? Their new film "Hall Pass" desperately wants you to remember this connection. "Mary" seems to be the watershed moment in the Brothers' career and raised our expectations too high, I guess they hope we will be fooled into believing "Hall Pass" is as good… Is any good…
The new film is funny, at times, and contains the required necessary Farrelly gross out gags (which are also funny), but you expect more from the Brothers; many, many jokes don't work, the film stars Owen Wilson who is spectacularly miscast and the film looks like it was made at an old shopping mall. The film is a wash, a mess and a trial to sit through..
Rick (Wilson), a realtor, is married to Maggie (Jenna Fischer, TV's "The Office") and is best friends with Fred (Jason Sudeikis, "Saturday Night Live"), an insurance salesman, who is married to Grace (Christina Applegate). Both men are adults who act as mature as the horny teenagers they wish they still were. Rick watches an attractive young woman walk by while he is with his wife, upsetting her. The two women talk with their friend, Dr. Lucy (Joy Behar, WTF?) who mentions that she gave her husband a 'hall pass' many years ago. He didn't use it, but the idea of it reinvigorated their marriage. After much discussion, Maggie and Grace decide to give it a try. Rick and Fred are ecstatic and their circle of buddies, Gary (Stephen Merchant, Ricky Gervais' producing partner), Hog-Head (Larry Joe Campbell) and Flats (J. B. Smoove) want ringside seats for the week of debauchery.
There are a few laughs in "Hall Pass", but these seem few and very far between. When you are sitting in a theater, watching a comedy, and you sit for long periods of time without laughing, what happens? The film seems very long. Worse, when you do find yourself laughing at the silly, stupid humor and the gross out gags, you remember back to "There's Something About Mary". These filmmakers once made a film that was so funny I had to watch it again to catch all of the jokes I missed the first time. "Hall Pass" doesn't suffer the same fate. What happened between the two films? Did they forget how to make us laugh?
When we first meet Rick and Fred, there seem to be a lot of opportunities for laughs. But these opportunities seem to evaporate in thin air. I think a lot of the problem arises from the casting, Owen Wilson is miscast. Rick is supposed to be the moral center of the film. Yes, he jumps at the chance to use his hall pass, but he also seems the most conflicted about it. Wilson usually plays the schemer, the mover and shaker, the liar and this provides him with something to so, no matter how annoying it may be. In "Hall Pass", he doesn't have this and it makes him seem boring. He can't do anything with the character to make him seem interesting and worth watching. He simply whines through most of the film.
I haven't really liked a lot of Owen Wilson's work in the past few years, have I? Yet, I keep going to his films. He seems to continue getting work with filmmakers I admire or hope to enjoy, yet he is often the worst thing about the film. In "Hall Pass", he isn't the worst thing, but he doesn't add enough to redeem it either.
Jason Sudeikis plays Fred who, unlike Rick, doesn't seem to have a moral compass. Or at least he doesn't seem to care as much about cheating on his wife. And he relishes the outlandish things Rick does. And these antics provide most of the laughs in the film.
Jenna Fischer and Cristina Applegate play the wives. I'm not sure if these roles are supposed to be completely humorless, but they are. The two women realize that if there husbands get a hall pass, they should get the same. So they head to the shore. There, they meet two guys who start to pour on the charm. The husbands are cheating, why can't they?
There are two or three gross out gags providing the most memorable moments in the entire film. But that's a bit of a double-edged sword. I'm thankful the gags are there, but it is disappointing they are the best and most memorable bits of the film. In a better film, they would only be an accent. But that would be in a better film.
A lot of the little story lines and some of the characters seem to go nowehere. Rick is attracted to a beautiful, younger Australian woman who works at the coffee shop he frequents. Her co-worker, a nerdy guy who looks like he would be at home at an open mike poetry night, takes offense and an instant dislike to Rick. He sees him oogling his co-worker. Every time Rick comes in, the male barista tries to stand in his way. Again, an amusing idea but it doesn't go anywhere. The filmmakers are only interested in getting Rick and the young woman together. And this seems to take forever.
The Greek Chorus surrounding Rick and Fred are a mixed bag, It is an amusing concept; three nerdy, equally childish men trying to live vicariously through their 'heroes'. But nothing really develops and they disappear for at least half of the film. Stephen Merchant is the most memorable and has a funny moment during the credits. Honestly, if the entire film were of the same quality as these last few moments, we would have another "There's Something About Mary".
Richard Jenkins plays Coakler, a man both men revere for his skills with the women. Fred and Rick refer to him many times throughout, their circle of friends also seem to revere him. But when he makes an appearance, very late in the story, he is completely forgettable. It wasn't worth waiting for him and the anticipation only serves to highlight how disappointing this usually very talented actor's participation is.
Joy Behar pops up as a published author. I guess she is supposed to be modeled on Dr. Laura, and friend of Maggie and Grace, Why Joy Behar is in this film is beyond me, way beyond me, a space galaxy beyond me. She isn't funny and doesn't seen as though she is supposed to.
Perhaps the most perplexing thing is how cheap the film looks. It seems like the entire film was shot in a shopping mall because every scene seems lit incorrectly, it appears harsh, fake and the light washes out all detail giving everything a flat look. I don't normally comment on such things unless it is really noticeable or really bad. In "Hall Pass" it is both.
"Hall Pass" is a big misfire. The few jokes don't make up for the interminable amount of time spent waiting for them to happen. The Farrelly Brothers' next film is "The Three Stooges". Originally, Jim Carrey and Sean Penn were going to star. That would be interesting. But both dropped out. Now Andy Samburg is the big headliner. Should we take a cue from Carrey and Penn and get a "Hall Pass" for the Farrelly Brothers' next film?