It was obvious that Warner Bros. was hoping for Hall Pass to be the Farrelly Brothers’ long-awaited comeback. Starring Owen Wilson, up-and-comer Jason Sudeikis, Christina Applegate, and The Office‘s Jenna Fischer, Hall Pass failed to become the box-office juggernaut that some of the siblings’ other films became (see also: the massive $176m domestic gross for There’s Something About Mary), but was their latest unfairly ignored upon release? Now that Hall Pass is available on Blu-ray and DVD, everyone who passed on the film earlier this year can find out if the Farrelly Brothers’ latest is more Dumb and Dumber…or more Stuck on You. Find out what we thought after the jump, folks…
The Farrelly Brothers have gone a long, long time without a hit in Hollywood. One has to go all the way back to 2001’s Shallow Hal to find a film directed by this duo that cracked $50m at the domestic box office (though, to be fair, their Heartbreak Kid earned well overseas). But these are the guys that delivered Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary upon an unsuspecting populace back in the late 90’s: you can’t blame the studios– specifically, Warner Bros.– for wanting to roll the dice again.
Their latest stab at box office greatness, Hall Pass, failed to catch on when it was released back in February: The film earned just $45m at the box office (and another ~$40m overseas, meaning that it turned a tidy profit without becoming a blockbuster) and delivered a lowly 34% rating from the nation’s critics. But setting the box office and the bad reviews aside, I couldn’t help but feel like Hall Pass is a step in the right direction for these guys: after sitting through the balls-out weirdness that was Stuck on You (a film I’d still consider too “weird” for its own good) and the bitter unfunniness of The Heartbreak Kid (a film that– given the Farrelly Brothers’ well-known love for the Charles Grodin-starring original– should’ve been better), Hall Pass seems like a breath of fresh air. It won’t rank amongst the funniest films I’ve seen when 2011 wraps (at least, let’s hope not), but it’s certainly worth a rental.
Yet again, this is a Hollywood comedy that you can pretty much say you’ve seen once you’ve watched the trailer. Chances are, you have seen the trailer, but let’s go through the plot for those that somehow managed to avoid seeing any of Hall Pass‘ advertising campaign earlier this year: Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (SNL‘s Jason Sudeikis) are two dim-witted, pretty-much-happily-married American men facing what can only be deemed concurrent mid-life crises. Rick’s got two kids that won’t let him get ten minutes alone with his wife (and when he does, she pretends to be asleep), and Fred’s just…well, Fred’s kind of a dick (I preferred Fred). Rick’s wife (Jenna Fischer) is fed up with her husband’s constant glances at other women, and Fred’s wife (Christina Applegate) is convinced that her significant other’s “obsessed with sex”.
Following a disastrous engagement at a wealthy couple’s home (wherein Fred serenades Rick with a song called “Big Mouth Billy Vagina” while a shocked group of onlookers watch on in horror), the Wives decide that they’re going to take the advice of their mutual friend, Dr. Lucy (Joy Behar): they will both grant Fred and Rick a week-long “hall pass” that will essentially free them of the restrictions of marriage. If Rick likes staring at every woman that passes and Fred thinks he’s still got game after all these years, the Wives figure it’ll just be best to let them “get it out of their systems” by getting a week all to themselves, no questions asked.
This is a fairly strong set-up for what could’ve been a very solid comedy: the two middle-aged guys coming to grips with their faded glory, the Wives discovering that maybe they’re not as well-behaved as they believed themselves to be, the two middle-aged guys’ friends watching on in fascination as they’re suddenly allowed to do what every married man (supposedly) really wants to do. There’s a lot of potential here, and I can imagine a version of Hall Pass that’s really, really funny. Of course, that version of Hall Pass is also a lot darker, less silly, and has two different lead actors. Point being, though, the Farrelly Brothers were on the right track.
The first problem is the casting: Comedy needs to have a “high” and a “low” energy if it’s going to bounce two different leads off one another, and Hall Pass doesn’t. Owen Wilson’s Rick is the less-assertive of the two (as Owen Wilson’s half of a comedy duo generally is), which means that Sudeikis’ Fred needs to be the jerk. But Jason Sudeikis just isn’t as “Alpha Male” as this role needed him to be, and as a result, you’ve got two performers each performing at essentially the same pitch. Had the Farrellys cast, say, 2005-era Vince Vaughn in the role, I think the film would’ve capture a lot of the same dynamic (and, frankly, comedy magic) that Wedding Crashers did (which isn’t to say that Wedding Crashers is a classic, but it’s damn sure better-cast than this was). Wilson and Sudeikis both do well here, but the dynamic just isn’t correct for the material.
Secondly, the back-up is surprisingly weak. When I realized that the Farrellys had brought in both Stephen Merchant (who proved in this year’s video game hit Portal 2 that he can be a compelling presence even if it’s in voice-only) and Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s JB Smoove as two of Rick and Fred’s best friends, I was sure that they were building a lethal team of comedy assassins. But once the two– and the rest of Fred and Rick’s friends– are introduced, not much is done with them, and the moments that they crew do get onscreen are only half as funny as they could’ve been. A sequence set at a golf course comes close to matching the bizarre energy these performers should’ve put out, but– again– it’s simply not enough. Always nice to see Stephen Merchant getting work, though.
Finally, the film does some odd things with its storyline, taking a few turns that I just found to be really odd. I’m going to have to go into spoiler territory to explain one of them, so go ahead and skip down a few paragraphs if you’re worried about having Hall Pass spoiled for you (also, try and be a more relaxed person…just, in general): about two thirds of the way through the film, Fred’s wife cheats on him with a young baseball player who’s entered the picture in his absence. We also see that Rick’s wife comes close to sleeping with the coach of said player’s team. Once Rick realizes that he’s happier with his wife than he’d ever be living as a single guy (MORAL OF THE STORY), he learns that his wife is “this close” to “cheating” on him herself. He rushes back to their house, and there’s a sequence where the film fakes you out, making you think that Rick’s wife took her own advice and cheated on the dude. But no, those “sex sounds” you heard from behind a closed door were actually an emotional phone call, all is right with the world, and Rick gets his happy ending.
But, uh, what about Fred? Throughout the film, Fred’s been presented as the more boorish of the two, but he’s certainly not played– or written– as a character that deserves to be punished. When we learn that Fred’s wife really did cheat on him, it leaves a really awkward, bitter taste in the audience’s mouth (at least, it did for me and the people I watched the film with). It’s an odd choice, having Fred’s wife be the only person in this quartet who actually cheated. Yes, it leads up to the film’s final punchline, but…still, dude’s wife just cheated on him. For all the other “feel good” crap the Farrelys wrote into the end of the script (see also: Owen Wilson’s speech about losing his virginity), it seems weird that they’d leave this decidedly-not-“feel-good” element in.
A note on the Blu-ray/Extended Cut: Turns out, I watched Hall Pass OnDemand about four days before I got the film for review from Collider. I enjoyed the film amiably enough (don’t let all that bitching above sway you: it’s worth 90 minutes of your time if you temper your expectations), and so I was curious to see how the “extended cut” stacked up against the R-rated version I’d seen through my cable service. Turns out, they’re virtually identical: I couldn’t tell the difference. There’s six minutes’ worth of new material, but I’d be hard-pressed to say what– exactly– it was. I’m guessing it was a “a minute here” and “a minute there” kinda thing? In either event, don’t feel like you need to seek out the “Extended Cut” for something unmissable: you won’t notice the difference. Secondly, the Blu-ray looks and sounds great, but the special features are a little lacking: you’ve got an “Outrageous Deleted Scene” (note: this scene was not an outrage) and a gag reel, and…well, that’s about it. I would’ve liked a commentary here, but that’s just me being nitpicky.
So. Overall, Hall Pass is absolutely worth spending an hour or two of your life on. It’s the kinda comedy that will fade from your memory almost as soon as you’ve seen it, but it’s not bad, and it won’t make you pray for death in the way that so many other rom-coms will. Sudeikis, Wilson, Applegate, and Fischer (great band name, by the way) all do well in their roles, there are a couple good set pieces, and you’ll like it more than the Farrelly Brothers’ last few movies. What more can I say? Rent the hell out of it, but only buy it if you’re a Farrelly completist.
My grade? B-