Coming four years after their previous film — the longest gap in their filmography to date — and eight years after the last time they worked from an original screenplay, Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s marriage comedy Hall Pass shows signs that the duo can still dish out a perfectly timed exploding-diarrhea gag better than anyone out there, but they may not have their heart in it as much as they used to.
The film stars Owen Wilson as Rick, a real-estate agent married 15 years to Maggie (Jenna Fischer). They have two adorable children, but their sex life has taken a noticeable downward turn. Rick’s best friend, Fred (Saturday Night Live’s Jason Sudeikis), also can’t get enough action from his put-upon wife, Grace (Christina Applegate). The wives, taking the advice of a doctor they both know, give their husbands a “hall pass” — one week off of marriage to do whatever they want. While the guys continually humiliate themselves trying to pick up women, the wives go on a vacation together that results in unexpected temptations of their own.
The Farrellys are still gifted at editing comedy — they know exactly when to cut to a reaction shot to maximize laughs. Sadly, this script takes forever to get going, and the movie never comes close to achieving the propulsive, madcap energy needed in the climax when all the various characters finally come together. This problem is made all the more troubling by the credit cookie involving their friend Gary (Stephen Merchant) imagining what would happen to him if his wife gave him a hall pass. This sequence is edited and framed with such energy that you’re left wishing the whole film had felt that urgent.
It’s in the end of the film where Hall Pass proves to be aimless. Rick makes a confession to Maggie that’s supposed to make him lovable, yet it’s the kind of thing you can’t believe she didn’t already know. It’s hard to shake the feeling that Hall Pass would like to be more of a drama than a comedy, especially when it deals with Fred and Grace. They really might not be good for each other, or even good people in general, and while the movie never shies away from their least appealing traits, the couple’s arc doesn’t have any kind of conclusion — so much darkly comic potential between them goes to waste.
That famous close-up of Cameron Diaz’s memorable hairdo from There’s Something About Mary probably belongs on a Mount Rushmore for American movie comedies. After all, Bobby and Peter Farrelly’s fusion of gross-out gags and warm-hearted humanitarianism — a combination typified by that aforementioned shot because we’re laughing at the filmmakers’ no-holds-barred comedic instincts rather than the character — quickly begat not only the American Pie series, but also paved the way for Judd Apatow to become the king of the comedy world. Hall Pass feels like the work of onetime trailblazers who still have the talent, but are growing bored with the path they’ve forged.