It might seem like a distant memory, but at one time the Farrelly Brothers were the leading the pack — and were possibly the only players of note — in the arena of progressive, raunchy comedies. The trifecta of “Dumb & Dumber,” “There’s Something About Mary” and “Kingpin” put the sibling duo on the map but ever since, they’ve been chasing past glory to lesser and lesser effect which now brings us to “Hall Pass.” Coming barely a month after “No Strings Attached,” the Farrellys’ film may be all dressed up in the trappings of a taboo breaking comedy but by comparison, it makes the Natalie Portman/Ashton Kutcher vehicle look positively avant garde. And worse, this might be the only R-rated sex comedy to get a thumbs up from the conservative right.
The film doesn’t waste any time in getting straight down to business, introducing us to Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis), two best friends whose horniness is struggling under the strains of their respective marriages to Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Grace (Christina Applegate). Rick can’t seem to keep his eyes on his wife, checking out any hot woman who walks by and secretly fantasizing about the busty babysitter Paige (Alexandra Daddario). Meanwhile Fred, the mouthier half of the duo, gives the impression of seasoned playa, with numerous (and mostly made up) rules of engagement of the opposite sex which includes taking mental photographs of the hot barista Leigh (Nicky Whelan) to log into his spank bank for later.
Yes, these two dudes appear to be losers and their wives, apprised of their boners for other women, grin and bear it, but suddenly some drastic action is required. While at a housewarming at a neighbor’s mansion, Rick and Fred get separated from the pack and once again began jawing about women and sex. They are soon spied by the rest of the guests on the closed-circuit security system talking about, among other things, another neighbor’s boob job, floppy tits and loose vaginas. Needless to say, their wives are not impressed. Given the idea by a mutual friend, Dr. Lucy (Joy Behar), both wives decide that they are going to give their husbands a hall pass, as the trailers fully explain, a week off from marriage so they can get their rocks off.
The idea is a bold one, but too bad the characters are rooted in tired clichés about the roles of men and women in a marriage. Unfortunately, the usually very funny Applegate and Fischer are reduced to playing bitchy shrews who openly admit to pretend to be sleeping when their husbands want sex and then act utterly shocked that they should still have carnal desires. Fred is reduced to masturbating in his car while Rick’s continual cock-blocking by his wife and kids is written off as the road one must travel when married. The women in this film are either a) tired, worn out anchors deprived of any sex drive or b) nubile, young dumb sluts ripe to be hit upon. Granted, both men and women are written as utter buffoons, but the ladies get the worst of it — god forbid a married woman over the age of 30 actually have an active libido.
Anyway, Rick and Fred enter their week of untold pleasures with lots of ambition but absolutely no game. When they’re not hiding out at Applebee’s the guys tentatively enter the dating scene using a plethora of shitty pick up lines that even the most awkward of teenagers would know not to use. But hey, hearing the ol’ “Are you from Ireland because my penis is Dublin in size” is good for laughs from the cheap seats so whatever. Meanwhile, their trio of friends, the underutilized Larry Joe Campbell, Stephen Merchant and J.B. Smoove as Hog-Head, Gary and Flats respectively, at first cheer them on from the sidelines but soon realize these guys will never close the deal. But for Maggie and Grace, it’s a different story. Taking off to a cottage for the week, they soon become entangled in relationships with players on a local baseball team and it looks like the hall pass put on their marriages might actually end up benefitting them instead. But since they went into the deal believing their husbands were too dumb to actually find someone to fuck, their own sexual feelings are met with tremendous guilt. So when these women aren’t judging their husbands for wanting sex, they’re feeling terrible about wanting it themselves. Great message here.
And that’s really the crux of the problem with “Hall Pass.” Sex is never viewed as something that is undeniably and allowably pleasurable. Instead, it comes loaded with rules, guided by guilt and shame and treated as a dysfunction rather than a healthy and essential part of an adult relationship. The film even goes so far as to punish one of the characters — who manages to sleep with someone else during the hall pass week — by getting them into a car accident shortly after their tryst. That should tell you all you need to know about how the film views sex and as a result it smothers any potential for comedy. If the Farrellys truly wanted to push buttons and boundaries, they would have allowed for the husbands or wives to have guilt free sex and then examined how the relationships fared in the wake. But we guess taking a more honest approach wouldn’t have allowed for a gag in which a drunken woman sneezes and simultaneously shits/farts/sharts all over a wall.
All of this said, there are a couple of very minor worthy notes in the film. Stephen Merchant pinch hits with a small handful of hilarious asides during his brief time on screen and Richard Jenkins totally kills it as Coakley, the object of admiration for Fred and Rick, a single, swinging, balling playa who’s an expert on women. But the reigning sentiment of “Hall Pass” is marriage is good, sexuality is bad, women hate fucking and men should hate themselves for wanting to fuck; this sex comedy is the one right-wingers have been waiting for their whole lives. [D+]