Hall Pass review

Can The Farrelly brothers recapture their golden touch? Mark checks out Hall Pass, as it finally arrives in UK cinemas...

If you remember before Judd Apatow, you’ll remember a time when Peter and Bobby Farrelly ruled the roost, as far as big screen comedies went. A double whammy of Dumb And Dumber and There’s Something About Mary secured their status as leading purveyors of gross-out but sweet humour in Hollywood.

I quite like the Farrelly brothers, even so far as kind of enjoying their one film that nobody else seems to like, The Ringer. It’s as guilty as guilty pleasures come, but they’re more sensitive than most would be with the subject matter, and the film entertained me, even though it contained hazardous amounts of Katherine Heigl.

Their latest film before now was The Heartbreak Kid, the 2007 remake of the Charles Grodin comedy, starring Ben Stiller. I really disliked that one, and in their absence, we’ve seen the success of films like Knocked Up, Superbad and The Hangover.

So, to say that Hall Pass primarily concerns two guys who are determined to show they’ve still got it, makes it kind of easy to wonder if art will imitate life. The two guys in the film are Rick and Fred, played by Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis, two guys in their late 30s who are restless in their respective domestic routines.

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Their wives, played by Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate, get fed up with their fixation on sex and their fantasies about younger and shapelier women and issue them with a “hall pass”. Effectively, it means they have one week off from marriage, free of consequence, to play the field and exhaust their libidos.

What they know, but Rick and Fred don’t know, is that their husbands are now so into those domestic routines that they’re pretty socially incapable, and hilarity ensues. If you’re still wondering if art’s imitating life, then I have to admit, the Farrellys have actually probably still got it.

It’s definitely not going to convert you if you’re not a fan of their brand of humour, but it has enough solid laughs for me to recommend it. If you are a fan of their brand of humour, there are enough of their familiar tics to keep you going as well.

There’s not as much of the sweetness that some of their earlier works made a virtue. In that respect at least, the damage has been done by the success of more edgy and partially improvised comedies of the last few years. The gross-out scenes are still there, however, and the film’s major special effect, a scatological practical effect, got belly laughs all around.

Comedy is always subjective, of course, but if it helps give perspective to my enjoyment of the film, I didn’t mind Owen Wilson in this. I know most of you will have tuned out when I said The Ringer was okay, but I normally can’t stand Owen Wilson. It’s not a role that he makes his own, particularly, but then nor is Jason Sudeikis’ role, and both brought the laughs where it counted.

Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate are both very attractive women, and so it’s a shame that they’re both characterised in a way that is bread and butter for Katherine Heigl, just to make it halfway believable that Rick and Fred wouldn’t be satisfied with them.

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Both actresses are better than that, and it sometimes makes it difficult to sympathise with their characters. Their husbands’ fecklessness isn’t played up nearly as much, but then there’s surprisingly little exaggeration or convolution to be had in this one.

Then again, it’s a film that asks you to believe in the idea of the hall pass as something couples do. I’m sure it’s been done, but there’s no such thing as no consequences, especially when you see some of the stuff they get up to. As a Hollywood comedy, this one obviously plays it safe. There’s never any danger that lives, or indeed marriages, can be damaged or destroyed by the men’s hijinks.

The obvious consequence of that attitude is that, with four people at play (the wives realise that the hall pass also leaves them free for a week), we have to have four different endings. It’s no huge detriment to the film to say that it’s going to end safely, but it is a bit of a drag to see it do just that four times over before everything converges.

That drag at the end of the second act could have been elevated by the liberal injection of more Stephen Merchant, who would seem quite misplaced as the apparently token British friend if he weren’t bringing the big laughs every time he appeared.

He pretty much has little more than an extended cameo, but his return at the end of the film single-handedly assures that we peak at the very last moment of the film. How many other recent comedies had you laughing as you left the cinema?

If you don’t like the Farrellys, that’s not going to be the only humour that doesn’t translate in Hall Pass, as there are several references and gags that don’t travel well outside America. The very title refers to a term in the American school system, but for the larger part, the comedy tickled me.

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I don’t know that I’d call it a return to form for the Farrellys, but it is easily a step up from The Heartbreak Kid. Maybe its heart is just a little south of being in the right place, but for me, this is at worst a guilty pleasure, and at best a pretty diverting comedy.

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3 out of 5