“Anyone thinking chocolate chip cookie dough on a waffle cone?”
It’s a shame that Peter and Bobby Ferrelly never realized their time had come and gone by 1998 with Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin, and There’s Something About Mary—you don’t get much better in the stupid comedy field than that trio. 2003 gave hope they might have found a way to balance their crude, crass, potty humor with comedy’s new, more subtle 21st century ways as Stuck on You was surprisingly good, but, alas, hope died. And now the brothers try once more with Hall Pass, four years after their last failed attempt at box office glory. With two likable leads in Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis and a trailer showcasing the killer pick-up line of, “Excuse me, do these bar napkins smell like chloroform?” I wanted to be wowed. Unfortunately, the end result is just a schizophrenic mishmash of stylings, never sure of what it really wants to be. Starting out cutesy with an edge, the movie begins to hit a stride endearing enough to interest, but once the filmmakers lose their patience, add in exploding farts and male genitalia, and soon fall into depressing, tear-streaked regret, all cohesion flies out the window.
The film starts with Wilson’s Rick looking through horribly Photoshopped memories with the kids, reminiscing about the past glory days before adult responsibility took over. He and his wife Maggie (Jenna Fischer) just want a quiet night alone to make love, but the prospect doesn’t appear realistic in the near future. So, while Maggie and Grace (Christina Applegate) attempt to hang out with friends and nestle into the suburban rut before them, the husbands—Rick and Sudeikis’s Fred—live vicariously through their Y-chromosome’s need to check out any warm-blooded female that happens to enter their line of sight. These two are pigs, no question, but they aren’t bad enough to warrant drastic measures until a case of Big Brother security cameras catch their lewd jokes about the family whose house they’re in, while everyone is watching. It’s the last straw and Maggie decides to use her friend’s advice by giving her beau a week off from marriage. Fred, being the child he is, soon joins after a Styx-backed, self-pleasuring in his car. Cops bringing your husband home for indecent exposure will make a wife fed up.
The ‘hall pass’ device is ripe for comedy, though, and there are some big laughs. Two middle-aged guys who still think they can bed college-aged girls, having permission to try? Yeah, it’s a pretty hilarious concept. Especially when said men and their friends think Applebee’s at nine is a quality place to wade through hot, sex-crazed nymphomaniacs—there’s always Olive Garden and Chili’s if the well runs dry. So, with “Law & Order” ‘duh-duhs’ sounding for each of the seven days, the experiment commences with bloated, BBQ-stained lethargy at a franchise restaurant’s trough. No matter how big the talk, the truth of the matter is that these guys aren’t the young studs they once were. They’ve been domesticated; they’ve become accustomed to early nights, a lack of any exercise, and have cultivated an unbridgeable generational gap. When Leigh (Nicky Whelan), a gorgeous Aussie barista, who is obviously flirting back, tells Wilson that Snow Patrol is playing on the loudspeaker, his confusion in thinking she’s talking about a Cuba Gooding Jr. film’s soundtrack can be nothing but pathetic.
And with that, the Farrelly’s brand of humor takes control. The ‘hall pass’ recipients’ posse of horny old men joins at the start before disappearing once morality and poorly masked romantic comedy tropes—because that’s what this is—arrive. Stephen Merchant is funny in his awkwardness, proving he should stay behind the scenes unless on camera with pal Gervais; J.B. Smoove, the best part of last year’s Date Night, is merely the token color doing a Charlie Murphy impression; and Larry Joe Campbell proves to be entertaining mainly because he’s the fat guy of the group, and snow angels in a sand bunker is absurd enough to work. Their shenanigans are tame, though, doing more to show how being on the cusp of 40 really is over-the-hill than actually giving us laughs. Wilson and Sudeikis are relatable and their striking out has its moments, but rather than go for the jugular like the filmmakers would have a decade ago, Hall Pass becomes less about the comedy and more about marital strife and if flirting is a husband’s way to stay active while married—maybe it’s the wives who need a break to feel young again.
It’s weird badmouthing a film that truly made me laugh—a lot—but looking back, I can’t think in any real detail of which scenes worked. Sudeikis is the strongest of the leads with his reactionary timing and expressiveness, taking his ‘everyman’ sensibilities and making them hilarious. Wilson plays off him well, but is definitely the straight man, much like Fischer to Applegate, who is a ton of fun as the bored housewife latching onto the affections of a younger man—oh, I forgot to mention that the girls have fun with a college baseball team while the boys go wild back home. Whelan is enjoyable with her sexy, but wholesome femme fatale, possibly the most ‘real’ piece to an otherwise heightened suburbia; Richard Jenkins is always good for a laugh as swinging bachelor Coakley; Derek Waters is fantastic as the self-absorbed coffee shop villain, although his overall entrenchment into Rick and Fred’s lives becomes insanely contrived; and we find out that ex-television stars Vanessa Angel and Alyssa Milano are still alive and working. None of this is enough to make me recommend anyone go see the film in the theatres, but at least it makes an ill-conceived visit somewhat pleasurable.
 (L-R) OWEN WILSON as Rick, JENNA FISCHER as Maggie, JASON SUDEIKIS as Fred and CHRISTINA APPLEGATE as Grace in New Line Cinema’s comedy “HALL PASS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Peter Iovino
 (L-R) JASON SUDEIKIS as Fred, RICHARD JENKINS as Coakley and OWEN WILSON as Rick in New Line Cinema’s comedy “HALL PASS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Peter Iovino
 Kristin Carey, Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis in New Line Cinema’s Hall Pass (2011)