Neither as resolutely crass nor as offensively sexist as buzz might suggest, Hall Pass is pretty much what you’d expect of a remarriage comedy from the conservative Farrelly Brothers – a dopey but earnest endorsement of monogamy. Here, they cast Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis as Rick and Fred, 40ish suburban horndogs of the stripe that fantasize about the vigorous sex lives they might be enjoying had they remained single. Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate are the wives who tolerate their ogling, childishness, and other dopey dudebro behavior, eventually issuing them hall passes in hopes of getting the overtly raffish behavior out of their systems.
The “hall pass,” as it is explained, repeatedly, in the manner of an infomercial, is “a week off from marriage.” It is the apparent tactic of last resort for luckless women stuck in unfulfilling relationships with ill-mannered overgrown man-children. Basically, it amounts to saying, “Honey, you should go out and fuck other women for a week and see if it makes you a more loving and responsible husband.” Well, maybe. The bulk of the film follows the next seven days in the lives of Rick and Fred as they muster the courage to approach actual women — targets they hope will facilitate the consummations of their newfound emancipations.
The use of a phrase from high school to describe an open relationship among adults is a signal that immaturity is the film’s subject. Amidst the dick jokes, the poop jokes, and the puerile sex talk, the Farrellys send the message that married couples undervalue each other, that men should place their women on pedestals, etc etc etc. The film’s scenario is sexist not only in that the men dominate, essentially forcing the women to temporarily remake their worlds in order to find some kind of happiness, but also in that its only depictions of actual sex result in the humiliation of the women involved. Dopey though they may be, the men are also crafty and worldly; women are hapless creatures who get only as much as the men in their world are willing to yield to them.
Hall Pass is sporadically funny, especially when it embraces startling grossness, or engages in full-throated mockery of the male sexual impulse (which can be, let’s face it, embarrassingly crude and indulgent) and full-frontal display of the male sexual organ. (That’s a cheap gag, and it’s still frankly riotous in a packed theater.) But it wastes a lot of time on dreary clichés, too, like the tedium of the suburbs or a sub-Caddyshack sequence set on a golf course and fueled by that hoary old baked good, the pot brownie.
Owen Wilson is quite good here – sweet and a little sad, as is his way – and the film glows a little when his blonde hair, blue shirts and bent nose are on screen. Sudeikis is a bit grating, never finding a winning angle for his cartoon character, but, to be fair, his is a pretty thankless role. You could say the same for poor Jenna Fischer, who plays the good wife with the competent blandness that the script pretty much demands. Christina Applegate does OK in a slightly more demanding part. Richard Jenkins has a small, show-off roll as Coakley, a party animal whose mad pussy-hounding skills are a source of inspiration and instruction to the boys.
The splashy newcomer is Nicky Whelan, a former Australian television actress and model whose most prominent characteristics are what look to be sizable breast implants. The camera regards her with a familiar, lascivious gaze – think Megan Fox in Transformers – that’s yoked here to the horniness of the film’s protagonists, who turn into gibbering morons whenever her character, Leigh, bends over behind the counter of the coffee shop where she works. (Cue screen-filling close-up of Whelan’s ass.) To the film’s credit, even though Leigh is portrayed as a masturbation fantasy, she’s at least a willing and intelligent object, and easily the most together character on the screen.
In fact, as far as personal politics go, the garden-variety sexism of Hall Pass bothers me less than the noxiously smug behavior it endorses. After Leigh’s co-worker Brent (Derek Waters) asks Rick and Fred to, you know, wipe up the drool puddles they’re leaving on the floor as they gawp at her, Rick responds by invoking his class privilege and mocking the poor kid for working in a coffee shop and therefore forever falling short of whatever (unspecified but apparently lucrative enough) corporate role Wilson himself fulfills. This is a big moment for Wilson’s character – at the screening I saw, he had the audience offering scattered applause to The Man. Worse yet, the Farrellys have cooked up a scenario in which Rick’s attempted seduction of Leigh is actually successful. If janky 40-year-old dudes not played by Owen Wilson are inspired to try the same moves in the real world, well, I feel sorry for cute girls working at coffee shops all across America. This film is a menace to the service industry.