[25 February 2011]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
When Kevin Smith does it, it’s a scandal. In a scene from 2008’s Zack and Miri Make a Porno, a character has a rectal complication that leads to an accidental evacuation - and according to many in the audience - an accompanying bout of OMG hilarity. Still, critics complained about his descent into desperate gross-out scatology. After all, this was a man who used to offend with carefully chosen words, not feces-covered deeds. Fast forward three years and something similar happens during a climatic sequence in the stillborn Farrelly Brothers comedy Hall Pass. In this case, a potential nightclub hook-up is thwarted when the bimbo believes she has appendicitis, only to sneeze and spray paint the bathroom wall behind her with…you get the idea. While equally vulgar, and garnering a similar snickering response, fans are hailing it as a return to form for the one time masters of miscreant toilet humor.
It’s clear from this hackneyed attempt at humor that the Farrellys no longer care about making an actual film. They’ve hit upon a flawed formula which believes that a few well placed gags (literally) will have audiences returning for their mandatory watercooler refresher. After all, when your buddies are bragging about seeing a hopelessly lost Owen Wilson starring straight into the main vein of a black man’s massive penis, you don’t want to be the nerd left out of said discussion, right? Indeed, Hall Pass is a slight, stupid excuse for a few sequences of ‘90s nastiness, jerryrigged to an attempt at playing the old marrieds card in order to not seem like a bankrupt example of creative water treading. So if conversations about (and eventual illustrations of) “Fake Chowing” and that always witty moment where a middle aged woman is humiliated by a younger man, this is the cinematic mess for you.
The questionable premise as henpecked hubbies Rick (Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis) earning a so-called “hall pass” from their equally harried wives (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate). The gals hope that their otherwise sex-obsessed spouses will use the week off from marriage as a way toward realizing they no longer have any viable wild oats to sew. They guys, of course, see it as a way of recapturing their carnal youth, seven days of nonstop partying and pus…personal gratification. What they fail to realize is that, in the two decades that have passed since their college years, they have turned feeble and ineffectual.
While their ladies are off having fun with a college baseball team, the dudes are dragging around Applebee’s, sampling more riblets than red hot honeys. All that starts to change when notorious womanizer Coakley (Richard Jenkins) returns from abroad, determined to help his pals have a good time. While Fred doesn’t care about who he hooks up with, Rick has a growing friendship with a sexy Australian barista (Nicky Whelan)that may bear the hoped for forbidden fruit.
In the perverted world of the Farrellys, housewives are all whores in the waiting, married men are so mousy and useless that they shrink at the sight of anything in a skirt, and the rest of their sphere of influence are self-absorbed dullards who discuss socially inappropriate things without once considering the potential interpersonal consequences. No subject is off limits - lady parts, man items, sleazy stigmas or the various and sundry odors/discharges/utility of them all. This is supposed to pass for humor, a form of funny business which sees the “anything for a giggle” mindset of something like Jackass taken to completely unnecessary narrative ideals. If you want to show a performer coming face to face with another guy’s junk, just break out the video camera and wait for Johnny Knoxville to walk by.
Instead, the Farrellys are so bereft of anything interesting or novel to say that they stick with the sophomoric and never let go. Somewhere buried in the illogical actions of his leads (if you could take a week away from the little woman/man, wouldn’t a trip to Vegas/a legal bordello be a better solution to your sorry, stagnant sex life?) is potential. After all, the mid-life crisis has been the basis for many meaningful motion picture portraits. But in this case, Rick and Fred as so far away from recognizable that they’d have to have a testicular transplant to be considered emasculated. While the Farrellys toss in dialogue about loving their families and missing their wives, what the audience is waiting for is a moment when the dickless wonders break out and do something insane. It never comes.
Instead, the directing duo fall into the same senseless patterns which mar all their movies. When Shallow Hal is your most consistent, tonally, and Something About Mary your most comically dependable, you know you’re trading on your not so recent past. In fact, the Farrellys are more failures than conquerors. What they try to do, others imitate and do a dozen times better. Hall Pass should be a aging husband’s Hangover. Instead, it’s a weak willed walk through the brothers’ no longer relevant sense of shock value. Bad taste is one thing, especially when employed in a chaotic, creative manner. Here, the Farrellys want to be naughty as well as nice, insult and stun before coming back with the syrupy heartstrings tug.
Let’s face it, any film that makes Stephen Merchant’s work in Tooth Fairy seem positively epic needs a couple of more trips to the script doctor. While they prepare to deface the legacy of those legitimate masters of physical comedy, the Three Stooges, the boys can sit back and smirk at the various interoffice whispers they’ve again unleashed. A Farrelly Brothers film like Hall Pass is no longer about sustained laughs. It’s about taking a series of adolescent antics and making them the motion picture equivalent of “going viral.” Word of mouth drives many a hit movie, and the guys have definitely benefited from being period five cafeteria fodder. More than a decade ago, they were irreverent. After watching the mangled mess that is Hall Pass, it’s clear that the duo are now nothing more than irrelevant.