Screen Rant’s Ben Kendrick reviews Hall Pass
Hall Pass, the most recent Hangover-inspired comedy to hit the big screen, is also the latest offering from the notorious director team/brothers Bobby and Peter Farrelly.
Throughout the seventeen years since the pair’s breakout hit Dumb and Dumber turned a $17 million production budget into a $247 million total box office gross, the Farrelly Brothers have seen their share of critical success (There’s Something About Mary) and failures (The Heartbreak Kid). However, despite the ups and downs, the Farrelly name still carries weight at the cineplex. Has their latest film, Hall Pass, earned a place alongside their critical successes – or have the brothers once again crossed the line from comedy into tastelessness?
While it’s unlikely that Hall Pass will challenge Dumb and Dumber or There’s Something About Mary for the top spot (or even second or third spot) on Farrelly Brother best and worst lists, it’s a serviceable comedy outing with a number of surprisingly funny moments, along with a number of shocking, but dumb-witted, set-ups – as well as a dopey (and unsurprising) conclusion to the film’s central premise.
If you’re unfamiliar with said premise, check out the official synopsis:
Best friends Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis) have each been married for a long time, and they are showing signs of restlessness. To revitalize their marriages, their wives grant Rick and Fred one week to do whatever they please, no questions asked. At first, the deal sounds like a dream come true, but soon these two best pals discover that their expectations are wildly out of sync with reality.
While the brothers managed to recruit a competent cast for Hall Pass, in the past, standout performances were responsible for taking the often-absurd comedy set-pieces of the Farrelly films and turning them into genuine and relatable comedy gold. Unfortunately, none of the actors in Hall Pass ever manage to take a performance beyond the basic on-screen shtick into a lasting, and memorable, territory.
Owen Wilson fits easily into his usual flat but likable everyman, managing to keep the audience on his side – even as a married man on the prowl. SNL alum, Jason Sudeikis, is featured more prominently here than in his prior work (mostly TV guest spots and a few supporting film roles) and is capable enough as Wilson’s less-restrained sidekick. Though, on frequent occasion, he’s relegated to the victim of the film’s more absurd gag set-ups (much like Jason Alexander in Shallow Hal).
Rounding out the couples, Christina Applegate offers the most natural performance in the film - which only makes Jenna Fischer’s work as a mother of three (that’s been married for 20 years) glaringly flat. The wives have their own story-arcs, which given the way the film plays out, are too rushed to fully realize the emotional consequences the film drives toward in its conclusion.
This is one of the fundamental problems with the controversial premise of the film – the emotional pay-off hinges on the resolution of both parties (man and wife) but Hall Pass, at its core, is trying to capitalize on the Hangover-esque “straight-laced suburban guys get into trouble when their girls are away” style of comedy. But the Hangover didn’t try to balance a larger message about relationships, by bothering to show us the emotional journey of Justin Bartha’s fiance while the boys were away.
As a result, for a film that’s about marriage, the audience is really only privy to the men’s side of the story. Sure, it’s more outrageous than what happens to the girls but, given the emotional chord the film attempts to strike in the closing act, this imbalance results in a convoluted message about love and marriage – one that the filmmakers couldn’t possibly have been intentionally driving toward.
Hall Pass is stuck in a gray area where it wastes too much time with character development to be a rapid-fire laugh machine like Dumb and Dumber while also falling short of an outrageous but engaging love story like There’s Something About Mary (or even Fever Pitch for that matter).
In addition, the film (like many other Farrelly Brother projects) relies entirely too much on unoriginal gag set-ups – just to name a few of the earlier (and less outrageous) ones: characters overhearing the guys talking inappropriately via a baby monitor (and later a security camera feed), pot brownie antics, and a male cougar at a nightclub. The cliché set-pieces do their job at making the audience laugh, or feel uncomfortable, but they rarely come across as smart or take a higher comedy road – for every surprise in the film, there’s a poop joke that follows.
That said, even some of the poop jokes still manage to be funny – and the few jokes that do surprise (without going straight into the gutter) might be enough to carry the film for moviegoers looking for a laugh. Wilson and Sudeikis have a decent chemistry that keeps them endeared to the audience – even when the pair is totally misbehaving. A number of supporting actors including Nicky Whelan (Scrubs), as the object of Wilson’s desire, and Stephen Merchant (The Office UK) as well as J.B. Smoove (Curb Your Enthusiasm), two of Wilson’s buddies, each get a few moments to shine in the film – aiding in some of the better Hall Pass scenes.
In the end, no matter what audiences are expecting, Hall Pass is a flawed but competent comedy entry that will have them laughing along the way - as they watch either an over the top comedy saddled with too much convoluted emotion or a melodramatic comedy where cheap jokes get in the way of any meaningful revelations about love and marriage.
If you’re still on the fence about Hall Pass, check out the official trailer below:
Hall Pass is now playing in wide release.