Friday, February 25, 2011

Movie Review: "Hall Pass"

The latest comedy from Peter and Bobby Farrelly ("There's Something About Mary"), "Hall Pass" has an intriguing premise, a likable cast, a few funny moments and an ending that makes you feel as if the characters have learned something. But as the credits rolled, everything felt a bit flat, bland and false. Its surface charms disguise the fact that the film has nothing at its center for audiences to invest in; it's not a movie, it's a doughnut.

Certainly the idea is ripe for comedy. Two 30-year-old buddies, Fred (Jason Sudeikis) and Rick (Owen Wilson), are happily married yet find themselves constantly ogling women and reminiscing about their glorious single days. Fed up with their horndog spouses, their wives (Christina Applegate and Jenna Fischer) issue the two men a "hall pass": one week away from the restrictions of married life where they're free to do whatever they want.

Not only does the idea have merit, but the Farrelly brothers are working with a cast that should be able to nail this material in their sleep. Wilson is the straight man but brings leftover goodwill from his work in "Wedding Crashers" as weary family man Rick, and Sudeikis - one of "Saturday Night Live's" most consistent current players - is born to play the out-of-touch cad who thinks he still has moves. Applegate is one of the most underrated comedic actresses working, while Fischer doesn't have to do too much more than play the same lovable character she portrays each week on "The Office." A supporting cast including Stephen Merchant ("Extras") and J.B. Smoove ("Curb Your Enthusiasm") is also promising.

Yet the movie falls curiously flat. Rick and Fred hit the town, ready to get drunk and pick up loose women, and the film immediately feels stale and predictable, with many of the jokes landing with a thud. The film's one-liners are uninspired, with lame attempts to pump up the humor with four-letter words going over like lead balloons. The "Hall Pass" week begins with an inspired joke about the guys trying to find women at Applebees, but the film goes nowhere from there - just recycled jokes about how old and unprepared Frank and Rick are for the single lifestyle. The Farrellys, who delivered one of the funniest movie moments of the past 20 years with "There's Something About Mary's" zipper scene, seem to have lost the ability or desire to properly pace a sequence; their major set pieces feel rushed and obligatory, like the brothers are suddenly embarrassed of the immaturity that's been their hallmark for so long.

Sudeikis and Wilson do what they can with the material. I particularly enjoyed Fred's pickup lines at the bar and the way the two offend some rich friends when they pay them a visit. But just as the plot kicks into high gear, all momentum is lost, with big set pieces feeling oddly paced. An unfortunate trip to a fitness center for Rick, and Fred's scandalous visit to a massage parlor feel rushed, with no build up, ending in awkward punch lines or raunchy sight gags.

There have been many adult-themed comedies lately that have bungled the big gags but coasted on the interplay between the two main characters. I'm thinking of films like "I Love You Man" or "Knocked Up." But those films had characters whose depths and interests extended beyond the confines of the plot. Here, all we know is that Fred sells insurance, Rick is a real estate agent and both men think about sex constantly. Without any more depth to their friendship, there's nothing else for the film to coast on but sex gags that fall flat.

There's good material here for a smart, witty and even heartfelt commentary on marriage and relationships, and it would have been interesting to see how else they could find humor in the restrictions Fred and Rick feel in their marriages. Did they have dreams they can't pursue now? Do they have things they'd love to spend their money on but are crushed by budgeting? There's a great wealth of material that could be mined for humor here, but all we're given is the immature, R-rated joke that men are pigs who think about sex all the time. Maybe there's some truth to that, but since the film falls flat on all its sex gags, there's nothing else to string it along, save for Richard Jenkins' small role as a womanizing middle-ager.

I'd be curious to see what the same material would have been like in the hands of someone like a Judd Apatow, who could easily combine wit, crassness and an emotional commentary on the differences between men and women. Instead, we get scenes of Owen Wilson staring at oversized male genitals and Sudeikis having a tryst with an old woman.

The problem further compounds when the Farrellys try to bring the film to a semi-serious and romantic close in the final act. By the time Rick and Fred realize the error of their ways and rush back to their wives, the film wants us to think they've learned something, but the characters are so one-dimensional that we haven't seen a real change, just an obligatory and manipulative resolution. That would be fine if this were a "Dumb and Dumber"-esque comedy, but the scene is staged so that the directors want us to see this as a sweet finale. Even the climax's comedic complications are staged ham-handedly and feel more chaotic than inspired.

To get a glimpse of what this movie could have been, just take a look at the subplot featuring Applegate and Fischer, who begin to experience the pros and cons of their own hall pass. The scenes, sadly truncated, balance the humor and heart that the Farrellys obviously want the rest of the film to have, and hint at a much more heartfelt film. If it were possible, I'd take a hall pass on Sudeikis and Wilson to spend more time with the ladies. They're in the better movie.

Original article posted here.

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30s, engaged and living in Motown. Wrestling with life, love, faith, art, film, culture and everything in between.