Friday, August 29, 2014

Hall Pass: automatic detention

While Fred (Jason Sudeikis, left) and Rick (Owen Wilson, right) watch in astonishment, Coakley (Richard Jenkins) demonstrates how an 8 can "pass" as a 10 by surrounding herself with less attractive friends. (Feminists, it should be noted, are not apt to appreciate what constitutes "humor" in this film.) Courtesy photo

February 24, 2011 |

In an amusing scene from 1980′s “Caddyshack,” panic erupts in a crowded country club swimming pool when a suspicious brown UFO (unidentified floating object) is seen on the water; anticipation is built, prior to its discovery, with some riffs from John Williams’ theme from “Jaws.” Following a shriek of “Doodie!” from one kid, everybody hops outta the pool, which then is drained and scrubbed.

Bill Murray, perfectly cast as a deranged groundskeeper, finds the offending object at the bottom of the empty pool. He picks it up (mild consternation from all onlookers), takes a sniff and then chomps into it (fainting from some onlookers).

No big deal, of course, because he’s immediately realized that it’s a Baby Ruth candy bar, which we viewers also know, having earlier seen a couple of children accidentally drop it into the water. But nobody else in the movie knows this crucial piece of information, which is why the scene is so funny.

That’s the difference between Harold Ramis, who made his directorial debut with “Caddyshack,” and the Farrelly brothers, who’ve returned after a four-year hiatus — sadly, not nearly long enough — to annoy, offend and repulse unsuspecting viewers, with “Hall Pass.” When Bobby and Peter Farrelly trade in excrement “humor,” they employ actual excrement. Sometimes explosively.

This, in the interests of full disclosure, is considered the height of humor in a Farrelly brothers movie: watching a grown man squat, grunt, bare his back end and then use a golf course sand trap as a toilet. And, as an added treat, the camera then lingers on the little brown pile left behind.

This “mishap” results from the ingestion of marijuana brownies, a wheezy plot contrivance that stopped being funny decades ago.

Moments like that tend to overshadow the fitful attempts at relationship dynamics in “Hall Pass,” which, in better hands, might have blossomed into a halfway decent sex farce. (I’d love to have seen what a French director, such as Francois Veber, could have made of this film’s premise.) Because that’s the truly frustrating part: The core idea here has potential.

Exasperated wives Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Grace (Christina Applegate), thoroughly fed up with the roving eyes that routinely pop out from the faces of husbands Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis), take the suggestion of a psychologist friend and give both guys a “hall pass”: a week during which they can pretend, with no strings attached, that they’re no longer married. Seven days in which to cut loose, bag any willing hotties and indulge in their most elaborate carnal fantasies.

As anybody with an ounce of sense will immediately realize, the notion of two middle-age suburban husbands attempting to crash the “meet” market — armed with delusions of their supposedly more attractive selves, 20 years earlier — is ripe for ribald humor. Then, too, it’s easy to anticipate that both Rick and Fred, eventually chagrined by their increasingly inept efforts, will realize that the hottest babes in town can be found in their own homes.

The Farrelly boys — assisted by co-scripters Pete Jones and Kevin Barnett — are even clever enough to throw temptation in the paths of the frustrated wives, giving Maggie and Grace cause to wonder whether they, too, should take advantage of this new-found “freedom.”

One anticipates plenty of embarrassing nightclub antics, near-miss bedroom hijinks and bared bodies. Particularly bared bodies; after all, this IS a sex farce, right?

Well … no.

As orchestrated by Bobby and Peter Farrelly, this is no more than 98 minutes of grade-school potty humor, aimed at patrons who enjoy watching characters humiliated, and who found it hilarious when Malin Akerman dropped her bikini bottom, revealing her Afro-concealed nether regions, and urinated all over Ben Stiller, in the ghastly 2007 remake of “The Heartbreak Kid.”

To borrow the tally system so infamously employed by drive-in critic Joe Bob Briggs (the wonderfully exaggerated alter-ego of Texas-based film scholar John Irving Bloom), “Hall Pass” rather meagerly “rewards” us with only two bared breasts and two limp, ah, male members … and they’re not in the same room at the same time.

Instead, we’re treated to an endless stream of vulgarity, debasement and sexist commentary from Rick, Fred and three members of their tag-along guy-posse. I should mention that the latter trio of dorks rather abruptly vanishes from the stage, about midway through this film; that’s typical of the sloppy writing throughout.

Maggie and Grace’s psychologist friend also is never seen again, and several other supporting players pop up briefly in Act 1, only to disappear thereafter. It feels like the four screenwriters penned different chapters of this movie without conferring with each other along the way, and then didn’t bother to stitch the disparate elements into a cohesive screenplay.

While I’m kicking the wounded, mention should be made of the so-called child “actors” hauled in to play Rick and Maggie’s kids: as talentless a collection of screen moppets as I’ve seen in years. Virtually NO effort was made to ensure that these children gave good line-readings during their few (mercifully) brief scenes; the little boy, in particular, isn’t even looking in the right direction. His dialogue emerges in fits and spurts, as if he’s repeating words being fed, one at a time, by somebody just off-camera.

That’s simply insulting. If the Farrelly boys — a term I keep repeating intentionally, in case you’ve wondered — think so little of us, as viewers, that they believe they can get away with that level of inept filmmaking, why should we reward them by purchasing tickets?

And yet, every time you’re ready to toss in the towel and simply write off this misfire as a complete waste of time, the film exhibits another round of multiple-personality disorder and actually becomes mildly entertaining. Maggie and Grace, off on their own vacation and gradually succumbing to their interest in a couple of baseball players, are inhabiting an entirely different movie: Their scenes are played completely straight, with Applegate (in particular) given ample opportunity to display her solid comic timing and earthy sexuality, as Grace tries NOT to fall into bed with a young stud half her age.

(Applegate, I should mention, was drop-dead hilarious in 2002′s “The Sweetest Thing,” a gal-oriented sex farce that was every bit as raunchy as this film, but also much, much funnier. Let’s face it: We expect men to behave badly, so of course it’s more of a novelty when the gender is switched.)

On the guys’ end, things pick up in the third act with the arrival of self-styled stud and all-around dating guru Coakley, played to hilariously over-tanned perfection by the consumately skilled Richard Jenkins. Coakley’s brand of “guy advice” is precisely what this movie needs more of; alas, he’s not present for long, quickly replaced by a deranged coffee shop barista (Derek Waters) who eventually goes postal because the gal of HIS dreams (Aussie-accented Nicky Whelan, capably cast as this story’s superbabe) begins to express interest in Rick.

Wilson once again trots out the amiable, low-key, clueless nice guy that has become his signature; honestly, it would be nice to see him try a LITTLE harder. Sudeikis, a fixture on TV’s “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” who, until now, has dabbled in big-screen supporting roles, is taking a stab at co-starring status here. He rather overplays Fred’s desperately horny act, but it’s hard to know whether that’s Sudeikis’ fault, or merely the result of the way he was directed.

Fans of the Farrelly OEUVRE will eat this film up, and a few of them fell out of their chairs with laughter, during Tuesday evening’s Sacramento preview screening. Different strokes, as they say. I wish such folks well, but the rest of you are advised to proceed with caution. This much doodie humor ain’t for the faint of heart.

— Read more of Derrick Bang’s film criticism at Comment on this review at

‘Hall Pass’

One star

Starring:Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate, Richard Jenkins, Nicky Whelan

Rating: R, and rather generously, for nudity, profanity, drug use and an endless stream of vulgar potty humor



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