Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hall Pass (2011)

Last week on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, brothers Peter and Bobby Farrelly praised the Hall Pass script they initially received from writer Pete Jones. “It was a really great script” Peter said, “so Bobby and me and our writing partner Kevin Barnett rewrote it.”

Yup, that about sums it up. Hall Pass starts out with a great comedy idea – what if two schlubs who think their wives are the only things that stand in the way of incredible sex with random strangers get a week off from marriage to learn how wrong they are – and eventually waters it down into a confused and befuddled dramedy with uneven comedy and an indelible identity crisis. I can’t tell you if the original script from Project Greenlight scribe Jones was ever really great, but I can tell you the rewrite and resulting film is an underdeveloped mess.

Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis star as the schlubs, domesticated man-puppies who talk a big talk because their wives (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate) won’t let them walk. The wives feel underappreciated, and the marriages are flailing. So they issue their men hall passes – a week off from all responsibilities, marriage, family and apparently work – with the idea that it will provide a missing spark, or teach them a lesson, or… something. So the guys hit the town of Providence, Rhode Island looking for women, adventure, and the latest dinner deal at Applebees. “Meanwhile,” Peter tells us, “the wives realize that they’ve got a hall pass too. And that’s where it really gets interesting.” Actually, that’s where the crisis begins.

Buried beneath the comedic premise of married dorks learning they aren’t as cool or irresistible as they think they are is a rather dramatic story of loyalty and lies, of cheating or wishing for something else. Hall Pass could have glossed over and generally avoided the issue in a quest for Hangover gold. Instead they chose to explore it, a gutsy but ultimately erroneous decision.

This is not that kind of movie, and never should have been (there are more apt cinematic artists for that story). This was meant to be (and often is) a carefree romp, a comedy to fill the shelf space between better Farrelly flicks like Dumb & Dumber and There’s Something About Mary. But it’s weighed down by a story it isn’t capable of telling.

Still, there’s a strong highlight real of comedic moments in here. Wilson’s surfer-dude delivery balances things out with a casual innocence. SNL funnyman Sudeikis again proves himself worthy of the big screen – he’s a slightly cooler Ed Helms, a khaki warrior with a biting delivery. And it’s always nice to see Christina Applegate and her toned comic timing – she’s found a new niche as the suffering mid-40s wife in movies like this and Going the Distance (also with Sudeikis), and she nails it every time.

This is a Farrelly flick, so there’s a lot to laugh at, and a quota of gross-out jokes to fill (poop! nudity! Kathy Griffin!  More poop!). If its 105 minutes were trimmed to sitcom length, it would have been a non-stop laugh riot. But alas, like the schlubs it characterizes, this movie isn’t as charming or capable as it thinks it is.

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