More than half a century ago, there was “The Seven Year Itch,” a comedy about a fellow who felt the urge to be unfaithful with a beautiful neighbor while his wife was away. It was hardly a great movie, but it benefited from the skilled touch of director Billy Wilder and the presence of a radiant Marilyn Monroe as the object of the guy’s lust. And while, even as toned down from George Axelrod’s play, it was more than a bit titillating, it wasn’t disgustingly crude.
That, however, is a perfect description of “Hall Pass,” about two doofus suburban pals, realtor Rick (Owen Wilson) and insurance salesman Fred (Jason Sudeikis), who are given a “week off from marriage” by their wives Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Grace (Christina Applegate) to work out their libidinous impulses without guilt. The movie is a repulsive mixture of smarmy schmaltz and unremitting vulgarity, directed by co-writers Peter and Bobby Farrelly as though they were wielding a bludgeon.
Of course subtlety was never a specialty of the Farrelly brothers, but in their early movies—“There’s Something About Mary” and “Kingpin” in particular—the audacity had a goofy, sophomoric feel that made it amusingly coarse. But their later pictures have become increasingly calculated, as though they’d decided that they needed to choose the most tasteless material imaginable and then deal with it in the crassest possible fashion, presumably in a vain effort to “keep down” with their innumerable rivals in cinematic crudity.
This effortful, brutally unfunny addition to their canon is of a piece with that pattern. It begins with a sitcom attempt to elicit a laugh by having little Gunnar—the son of Rick and Maggie—saying “fat ass” and then moves on to lots of juvenile banter about female derrieres and other anatomical equipment among Rick, Fred and their three dopey pals—bookish Brit Gary (Stephen Merchant), fat slob Hog-Head (Larry Joe Campbell) and stereotype black dude Flats (J.B. Smoove—before moving on, after the three dolts happily disappear, to a particularly slimy scene in which Fred is caught by the cops masturbating in the family van on the street outside their house. And that’s even before the actual plot kicks in.
When it does, the result is even more appalling. We first have to watch Rick and Fred stumbling around and striking out with gals, using awful pickup lines they’ve found on the Internet. But those scenes aren’t as groan-inducing as Rick’s involvement with Aussie barista Leigh (Nicky Whelan), which includes a truly vile gag involving a hot tub and some totally gratuitous full-frontal male nudity, and Fred’s endlessly hapless horniness. As if all that weren’t bad enough, the last reel amps up the presence of the script’s worst character, a wacko clerk/barista (overwrought Derek Waters) who’s enamored of Leigh and is more gruesome than goofy, and adds another thoroughly unpleasant one in aging lothario Coakley, a role that badly misuses the talents of the able Richard Jenkins.
Throughout all the bits of business Wilson maintains his usual slack persona, and he survives the debacle by underplaying. Sudeikis, on the other hand, works much too hard to be funny, with the result that he merely looks desperate. The ladies fare somewhat better in their distinctly supporting roles. The always charming Fischer has a few scenes with a baseball coach (Bruce Thomas) that are pleasantly low-key, but Applegate gets involved with a handsome young player, Gerry (Tyler Hoechlin) in a subplot that seems all too designed to allow for a concluding twist that mixes sentimentality with cynicism to unappetizing effect. But of course that’s something that could be said of the entire movie.
Technically “Hall” barely passes muster, looking cheap and garish—but that seems characteristic of New Line product being released by Warners.
The Farrellys once tried stretching with their under-appreciated coming-of-age tale “Outside Providence,” which they co-wrote. Unfortunately this picture—set in Providence, as it happens—represents regression of a most unfortunate kind.