Two best buds, Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (SNL’s Jason Sudeikis), have lust and female anatomy on the brain, like all men stuck in good but stale marriages, and their wives (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate) have gotten tired of it. A friend suggests the ladies let go of the leash by giving their husbands a “hall pass,” or a week off from marital obligations, including fidelity. Rick believes this might be some kind of tactic, but Fred convinces him to take advantage of it. Soon, the two set off to score chicks only to find they’re not any bit near as capable as they might have been during their formative years. Perhaps the Farrellys felt the pressure to give in to the “middle-aged married couples talking openly about sex” wave of R-rated comedy. The film feels as if it has an obligation to be meaningful and make a statement about love. That’s not the problem; there are some genuinely realistic and almost heartwarming moments in the film regarding its romance parts. The trouble comes when the Farrellys aim for big laughs, because their strength does not lie in weaving comedy into a romance, but manipulating a story to set up moments of raucous laughter. Those moments feel disjointed and these pivotal jokes don’t pack the punch they used to back in the days of There’s Something About Mary. Comedy evolves faster than cell phones these days and the Farrellys have only proven they can’t exactly keep up. Among the few things they understand perfectly is middle aged men trying to act cool; kudos to Owen Wilson for breaking his “free-spirited sexual hippie and/or moron” type casting and pulling off the awkward family man with zero sense of style or any semblance of “game.” He and Sudeikis in their tucked-in Hawaiian shirts among other things successfully prove the Farrellys’ hypothesis that 40-year-old married men suffer nothing short of de-masculinization after 15-20 years of marriage. Unfortunately, this frighteningly realistic portrait factors minimally into the film’s entertainment value. More effective are a select group of gags and some extraneous characters. Richard Jenkins, for example, steals countless laughs as a friend of Rick and Fred’s who still attracts the ladies over the years because he knows all the secrets. Outside of Jenkins, the Farrellys seem to have trouble grasping the idea that well-crafted characters and mindful casting can elevate humor much more naturally. Instead, you’ve got guys such as Larry Joe Campbell crapping in a sand trap. Shock gags like that simply doesn’t work anymore. Audiences aren’t surprised much these days, but that apparently hasn’t discouraged the Farrellys or sent them back to the drawing board. Instead, their thought process says “ok, we just have to go bigger and dirtier next time.” I’d like to give them credit for sticking to their guns and doing what they know, but it taints Hall Pass, which might have otherwise been a fairly (Farrelly?) decent movie. Honestly, the Farrellys, being about that age themselves, have an intuitive understanding of middle-aged guys and this makes the pathetic escapades of Rick and Fred appear to have some actual intention. Their “failures” coupled with the Farrelly’s Law and Order inspired title cards for each day of the hall pass make for the funniest parts of the movie and give it a vague sense of depth, but they can hardly outshine a slow beginning, forced antics and tired shock humor.
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