Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 14, 2011)
Given the success of recent “hard R-rated” movies like 2009’s The Hangover and its 2011 sequel, the time seems ripe for a revival of the Farrelly brothers’ fortunes. After all, they led the way for extreme R-rated comedies via hits like Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary.
If the Farrelly boys hope to make a comeback, it’ll have to wait for another day. After a four-year layoff, they created 2011’s Hall Pass, but it didn’t find much of an audience. With less than enthusiastic reviews behind it, the movie went on to make a mediocre $45 million.
Long-married couple Rick (Owen Wilson) and Maggie (Jenna Fischer) go through a dry spot and Rick tends to dream of greener pastures from his single days. In an attempt to revive the relationship, Maggie grants Rick a “hall pass”: this grants him a week off from the marriage during which he can do whatever he wants.
And that does mean whatever. If Rick wants to score with lots of ladies, that’s his prerogative. Rick’s pal Fred (Jason Sudeikis) gets a pass of his own from wife Grace (Christina Applegate) and joins him on these adventures.
In the time since the Farrellys ruled the comedic scene, they’ve seen the “bromances” under the Judd Apatow umbrella steal their thunder. And do it better, in my opinion; Apatow indulges in some of the same kind of outrageous gross-out humor favored by the Farrellys but Apatow films usually come with more clever jokes and more interesting characters/stories.
With Hall Pass, it feels like the Farrellys are retreating a bit to try to play on Apatow’s terms. Sure, we get some of the patented Farrelly material – a little diarrhea here, some exposed cock there – but the film doesn’t engage in the extended crudeness you’d find in most other Farrelly fare.
I regard that as a good thing, as I always thought the Farrellys were gross for gross’s sake, but it doesn’t mean Hall Pass becomes a good film. Perhaps if they totally forgot their standard MO and focused on the characters and scenarios, the movie could’ve gone somewhere. When the Farrellys left out most of the nasty stuff in 2005’s Fever Pitch, they produced arguably their most enjoyable flick; while not a classic, that one was surprisingly sweet and endearing.
Hall Pass occasionally can be fairly charming, and I will give it credit for that. Too many of the earlier Farrelly flicks poured on smarmy humor and nastiness but then wanted to change tone at the end. It’s like someone who degrades you for two hours but then says “just kidding!” and hugs you. They don’t follow that trend here, so it earns its happy ending in a more satisfying manner.
Unfortunately, Hall Pass only occasionally amuses as its works its way toward that (inevitable) positive conclusion, though it starts out pretty well. Buoyed by good chemistry between Wilson and Sudekis and the intriguing – though hard to swallow – “hall pass” concept, the movie chugs along in an enjoyable manner during its first act. Laughs don’t overwhelm us, but we get some chuckles and find ourselves interested to see what happens.
Too bad “not much” is the answer. Rick and Fred go on some not-too-compelling escapades but not much else. The film lacks the cleverness and wit to make their inevitable failures more amusing. C’mon – we know the guys aren’t going to do much with their “hall passes”, so at least make their failures entertaining.
They’re not, and the film slows to a crawl. It doesn’t help that the running time makes Hall Pass a chore. On the surface, 105 minutes – or 111 minutes if you choose the Extended Cut – isn’t a long span, and Pass is actually shorter than most Farrelly flicks.
But that doesn’t excuse its length. Its Farrelly siblings tended to be too long, and that continues to be a problem here. The movie feels ready to end a good 30 minutes before it does. Indeed, when I thought the movie was about to wrap up, I looked at my player’s display and realized it still had 40 minutes left to go!
Dramas can get away with extended running times but comedies tend to benefit from a “less is more” concept. That doesn’t mean long comedies can’t be great, but if you’re going to move one past 100 minutes or so, you’d better boast really good material. Hall Pass can’t make that claim, so its 105 or 111 minutes progress awfully slowly.
None of these issues make Hall Pass a bad movie: it just tends to be a tedious one. Though not without some merits, the film simply lacks the wit and charm to keep us with it.
Footnote: stick through the movie’s end credits for a mix of bonus clips.