If I were an alien sociologist trying to learn about American attitudes towards marriage by watching movies, all three of my heads would explode.
On the one hand, you've got your boy-meets-girl romantic comedies where marriage (or the kind of stable long-term relationship that leads to marriage) is the only real goal. It's so important the story literally stops when a couple finally ends up a couple, as if a war has been won or possibly everyone has died. Meanwhile, in movies about what comes after marriage, it's as if the institution is itself an ongoing war. Fought mostly over socks and other girls' butts.
Is marriage two tickets to Happily Ever After, USA? Or is it a trap so excruciating you would chew through one and a half of your own limbs to escape it? Beats the hell out of me. But if there are any aliens watching, they'll get a slightly more advanced picture of what's up from the not-very-funny Hall Pass.
Jenna Fischer thinks her husband Owen Wilson is too interested in other women. To remind him what single life is really like, she gives him a "hall pass," a week off from their marriage to do whatever he wants: go out, party, have guilt-free affairs.
His friend Jason Sudeikis gets a pass of his own. Supported by three of their buddies, they hit the town -- but as middle-aged married men, it may not be as easy as they remember.
From all the defecation, masturbation and dicks, I should have guessed this was a Farrelly Brothers movie. I don't mean dicks in some metaphorical sense, either. I'm not talking about bullies who kick sand in your face at the beach. I am talking about the male sexual organ on display as a means of comedy. Don't get me wrong, that can be funny--recently, Walk Hard and The Hangover used them well (uh, cinematically, that is) -- I'm just saying after seeing three different members, it was no big surprise to see the end credits dominated by the guys who broke out with There's Something About Mary.
But a heavy plateful of the ol' gross-out humor isn't the only way to tell this is a Farrelly movie. As usual, they approach their subject with more thoughtfulness than you'd expect from two guys concerned about the spray patterns of bodily fluids, but in typical form, they can't quite pull off the depth they're shooting for.
Props for the effort. Sudeikis may be a typical horndog, the sort who only needs a couple drinks to start giving the couch cushions saucy looks, but Wilson isn't. Initially, he doesn't even like this idea of a hall pass. Meanwhile, Fischer's own motives are a little muddled -- she's ambivalent about sleeping with her own husband because he checks out other women, but does he only do that because he's frustrated?
Groundbreaking? No. More sophisticated than entertainment stereotypes of "wife hotter than baked lava takes care of family like a childbearing saint while dumb husband is so dumb he's still trying to figure out what goes in the toaster"? By a mile. Well, a couple hundred yards, at least.
Problem is, for a comedy, Hall Pass is not very funny. The smutty banter's subpar. You've got your requisite "guys take drugs, act unimaginatively goofy" scene. Meanwhile, Wilson and Sudeikis' buddies hardly register. A scene where two cops catch Sudeikis being inappropriately self-intimate in his car is outright hilarious, but Hall Pass just about has more writers than it has good exchanges. For the record, Hall Pass has four writers.
It's not an especially energetic movie, either. Probably could have chopped 15 minutes without breaking a sweat. The Farrellys try to up the action with a climax that veers hard left for Wackytown, but that just highlights how much of Hall Pass hasn't paid off along the way.
* Contact Ed Robertson at email@example.com. His fiction is available on Kindle through Amazon.