Inside every happily married man lurks a world-class horn dog eager to mark his territory and cast his seed. At least that’s the theory behind “Hall Pass,” the new comedy from Peter and Bobby Farrelly ("There's Something About Mary," "The Heartbreak Kid"). It’s not quite a return to their halcyon days of the late ‘90s, but it’s a hell of a lot funnier than anything they’ve done in the past decade.
Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudekis) are a pair of husbands from suburban Providence (do we even have to mention that? This is a Farrelly Brothers movie after all) who’ve been best friends since high school. Rick and his wife, Maggie (Jenna Fischer, who sometime between the first and second scene fell into a vat of tanner), and have three kids. Fred and his wife, Grace (Christina Applegate), are childless, but still drive a minivan because he’s an insurance salesman, and he feels it puts customers at ease.
At a cocktail party one night, the wives commiserate about how their husbands are constantly checking out other women, and a couple of days later, at the suggestion of a friend, they each grant their husband a “hall pass,” one week free from the bonds of matrimony, to do what they please with whomever they please.
Like the Farrellys’ better films, “Hall Pass” depicts men at their worst, poking fun at their baser nature, but allowing the characters to maintain just enough humanity to make it OK to laugh at them. It’s a delicate balancing act, and they occasionally lose their footing, but here the Farrellys get it right more than they get it wrong.
Pushing the boundaries of taste is another Farrelly hallmark, and “Hall Pass” certainly does that, going too far more than once. Without getting into details, there’s a vivid examination of the stereotypical differences between black and Irish men, as well as the most disgusting sneeze in move history.
Wilson, Sudekis, Fischer and Applegate all perform ably, but none brings anything special or new to the table, though that’s kind of the point. They’re all supposed to be suffocating under the beige-ness of their lives. But Derek Waters is delightfully unhinged as the barista/DJ in love with the woman Rick is pursuing, and Richard Jenkins fully commits to going 180 degrees against type as Coakley, the aging ladies man that Fred and Rick all look up to.
The Farrelly Brothers have repeatedly called “Hall Pass” a “chick flick,” with Peter insisting “the women win… I mean, they win across the board.” It’s an absurd claim about a film that features the sort of scatological and sexual hijinks on display here, and the idea that the women “win” is equally misguided, but you can see the point he's trying to make, however poorly. The only way this movie works at all is if it’s clear the Farrellys understand that the men are overgrown adolescent dolts, and they obviously do.
Like the Farrellys earlier work, “Hall Pass” gets its laughs by mining the dregs of the human condition, leaving you laughing in spite of your better judgment. Rather than a “chick flick,” “Hall Pass” is a romcom for men, which is to say the emphasis is on the second syllable rather than the first.