When considering which living American directors have most squandered their potential, you have to put the Farrelly brothers somewhere near the top of the list. From the raunchy promise of Dumb and Dumber to the sleazy charm of Kingpin (most notable for Bill Murray shining in perhaps the most raw, untamed performance of his career) all the way out to the bizarre four-quadrant runaway success of There’s Something About Mary, they were on the way up. And then? Fizzle. Sputter. Crash. Something inexplicable happened that broke the Farrellys.
Hall Pass is the worst thing they’ve ever done, and they’ve done a lot of bad things. Ostensibly a romantic-yet-raunchy relationship comedy like There’s Something About Mary, it strikes all the wrong notes in terms of pacing, themes, humor, and filmmaking capability. Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis play a pair of sad-sack family men who are given “hall passes” from their wives (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate, respectively, both of whom deserve so much better), enabling them to take a week off from the responsibilities and commitments of marriage.
The men are basically horny boys in grown-up clothes who say offensive things and periodically vomit stereotypes onto the screen. Getting a hall pass is perfectly okay for the men, Sudeikis suggests, because all the women’s childhood dreams have come true—they have ovens, homes, and children, he says; what else could women possibly want?—while the men are living saintlike existences where their dreams are summarily crushed for the good of society. During their week of freedom, they have lame “adventures” that involve a hot Australian barista, pot brownies, and a whole bunch of product placement. Almost all the actors, save Sudeikis and a horribly squandered Stephen Merchant, are a Boehnerian shade of fake-tan orange, and not one real smile is on display anywhere in the too-long running time.
Somewhere deep in the middle of Hall Pass, Wilson is mocked by a hip urban barista for confusing the band Snow Patrol with the Cuba Gooding Jr. movie Snow Dogs. Wilson responds by giving a huffy speech on behalf of all the square, uncool “suburban guys” who get mocked by the trust-fund kids. These hipsters, Wilson says, live fake lives until their parents’ money runs out, whereupon they immediately become suburban dads themselves. And then guess who’ll be responsible for hiring these snarky young Turks when they come groveling for jobs as realtors and insurance agents? That’s right: Owen Wilson. It’s a strange speech that stops the movie dead for no good reason.
But hell, for all I know, maybe it’s a smart move on behalf of the Farrellys: Maybe theaters full of people in Nebraska and Kansas will stand up and cheer Wilson’s antiurban manifesto and take the Farrellys into their hearts as a pair of cornpone Woody Allens of the heartland. You can’t help but feeling, though, while Wilson is bloviating on behalf of the righteousness of the suburbs, that he’s a mouthpiece for the filmmakers, apologizing for the Farrellys’ lurch into mediocrity as they’re repeatedly shown up by the more nuanced, artful Apatows of the world. But the brothers can’t even muster their same old tricks anymore; during one of the two major gross-out scenes—it involves a sneeze, a thong, and diarrhea—someone in the preview screening audience I attended howled with laughter and actually shouted aloud, “Where do they come up with this stuff?” Presumably the same place they’ve been pulling this stuff out of for the last two decades, random moviegoing guy. And wherever that is, it sure does stink.