The Farrelly Brothers have exhausted any goodwill they built up during the 90s. They once were modestly successful with gross-out humor that was disgusting but also slightly clever. Most gross-out comedies don’t go for a bull semen joke, but Kingpin just casually threw one into the mix. Unfortunately, the glory days of that film and There’s Something About Mary are well behind them and their 2007 remake of The Heartbreak Kid was unbearable. With their latest effort, Hall Pass, they regain some of their footing, but the laziness of the humor combined with the inability to find what works makes for a film that’s barely passable.
Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis) are a couple of horny married guys who aren’t getting any action at home and their beleaguered shrew wives (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate) have had enough. They decide to give their husbands a “hall pass”, which gives them the freedom to do whatever they want consequence free. You see, marriage isn’t about compromise and actually talking to your partner. It’s about gimmicks and the only barrier to cheating on someone is that you might hurt their feelings.
But it’s a comedy so the mature response is set aside in favor of wacky middle-aged guy hijinks. That would be fine if there was some level of comic consistency in the humor. But Hall Pass swings wildly at anything it thinks might work. Rick and Fred have a coterie of middle-aged friends (Stephen Merchant, J.B. Smoove, and Larry Joe Campbell), and when they don’t add anything to the proceedings, they’re tossed aside half-way through the film and we’re left wondering why they were even included at all. Rick gets all the straight-man humor where comic situations befall him and Fred is the loud-mouthed, troublemaker who goes for broad laughs. It’s an odd mish-mash made worse by the fact that Wilson and Sudeikis hardly have any chemistry.
Watching Hall Pass flail around for laughs is depressing when you see how well Kingpin and There’s Something About Mary worked. Each scene in those films had a strong comic build-up and the Farrellys showed they knew how to effectively manage the pacing of farcical situations. That steady comedic hand is nowhere to be seen in Hall Pass and there’s hardly any attention to detail. The make-up is distractingly bad, especially on Jenna Fischer. They make her look old and haggard and while some may argue that it’s done intentionally, everyone looks like they’re wearing day-old caked-on foundation.
Even if Fischer’s old-face is done to show us that she’s no longer attractive to Rick (and you do have to work hard to make Jenna Fischer look ugly), her and Applegate’s scenes lack any spark. While the boys are off having their holiday and realizing that single life is mostly getting rejected by hot women and eating junk food, the wives go off to Cape Cod and meet a couple of handsome gentlemen. It’s a half-hearted attempt at balance and to show that “Hey! This ‘Hall Pass’ works both ways!” Except Fischer and Applegate, who are talented comic actresses, don’t get a single joke. It’s a little sad to see a comedy so limp that it can’t even stretch itself to throw the female cast members a joke.
Hall Pass is a painfully uneven comedy. Some jokes work wonderfully and others are completely flat. The film has strong supporting players in Merchant, Smoove, and a third-act appearance by Richard Jenkins, but it doesn’t know how to play to its strengths. The fact that the movie’s best joke comes during the credit sequence speaks volumes about how Hall Pass struggles to find comedy.