Sunday, October 2, 2011

This Is Why We Need Hall Monitors


HALL PASS

It isn't as if Hall Pass didn't have a good idea behind it, or that it didn't have any funny moments.  It's that Hall Pass didn't take advantage of the possibilities it had going for it, not unlike our two male protagonists.   

Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis) have been lifelong friends and are married to two beautiful women, Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Grace (Christina Applegate).  While they are married, whether they are happily married is open to debate.  Rick and Fred are obsessed with sex, not so much in getting it from their wives but in just getting it.  They openly lust after other women and are overheard talking about female body parts and how much they'd spend if they could have a one-night stand and not get caught.

The wives have reached a breaking point with their juvenile antics, so with the advise of their friend, psychologist Dr. Lucy (Joy Behar), they give their husbands a 'hall pass': one week off from marriage where they can do anything they want, no questions asked and no holds barred.  Maggie and Grace go off to Cape Cod, and the boys now have a week to do (in every sense of the word), anything they want sexually.  For a brief while Rick and Fred's poker buddies Gary (Stephen Merchant), Flats (J.B. Smoove), and Hog-Head (Larry Joe Campbell) go along for the ride, but after three days of them doing nothing drop them.  It isn't until Day 3 that these two opt to go to a bar, and until Day 6 (SIX!) that, under the tutelage of uber-player Coakley (Richard Jenkins), Fred and Rick get anywhere near a sexual encounter: Rick with beautiful barista Leigh (Nicky Whelan), Fred with Meg (Kristin Carey), aunt to Rick's babysitter Paige (Alexandra Daddario).

Meanwhile, the girls are the ones living it up.  Grace has caught the idea of college baseball player Gerry (Tyler Hoechlin), while Maggie faces the charms of the coach, who also happens to be named Rick (Bruce Thomas).  On the last night, it's a wild one: there's sex, pseudo-sex, a psycho named Brent (Derek Waters) who has been hovering around the story for most of the film, and a realization that Rick One and Maggie, as well as Fred and Grace really do love each other and want to spend their lives together.

The Farrelly Brothers (Bobby and Peter) have so much potential with Hall Pass' randy premise it seems amazing that they couldn't get more than just a couple of laughs out of it.  Still, somehow that's what you got.  I place the fault to this primarily on the fact that one of my Golden Rules of Filmmaking was violated.  We have FOUR screenwriters: the two Farrellys, Pete Jones, and Kevin Barnett.  Having so many people work on this appears to have watered down both the story and whatever comedic elements there were in it.

For example, you could have the three poker buddies be part of the whole story, giving bad advise or finding ways to get our heroes into hilarious situations, but instead they don't serve any real purpose (which appears to be why they were dropped at the mid-way point and not seen or heard from until the last scene).  There is a whole thread involving the boorish nouveau riche Ed and Britney (Rob Moran and Lauren Bowles) that appeared to come from not a previous draft but a whole other story altogether which never appeared to remotely relate to the central plot of Hall Pass.  They were completely unnecessary characters, and when you have unnecessary characters, you are in for a boring experience.

You also face a problem with pacing.  These two take so long in getting anything done that it becomes a waiting game to see if Rick and Fred actually get around to using their 'hall pass'.  It takes them three days to even go to a bar (which I figure would be the first place anyone would go to try and pick up "broads"--note the quotation marks, so don't send angry messages at me), and Day 4 is marked as them sleeping off their drunkenness, so now we have only three days for them to do 'the deed'.  Given how much time these two eager/horny guys appear to waste, they don't appear to be serious about their efforts.  That may be the case with the makers of Hall Pass (I have no way of knowing), but if you are wasting the character's time, you are wasting our time.

It's not good when you keep thinking how much funnier things could have been if Hall Pass had just made a few alterations.  For example, you could have one of them fending off advances from someone but now he has the ability to pursue the pursuer.  Hilarity ensues.  One of them could start out by being more interested in enjoying his free time and reluctantly going along with his hot-to-trot buddy only to find himself both the object of desire and facing serious temptation.  How strange that while both Wilson and Sudeikis were the central figures of the 'hall pass', it was Fischer and Applegate who were the ones actually facing the situations more.  I figure this was planned out that way, but it doesn't seem fair to promote a film with one set only to give the situation to another group altogether. 

Out of the performances, only Jenkins appears to be having any fun.  Why wouldn't he: Hall Pass is the first film I've seen him in where he isn't suffering from some form of dementia or facing death.  He is loving playing against type as the ultimate smooth ladies man, even though he had very little to do in the film.  The supporting players fared much better and provided the few laughs there were, in particular Merchant's Gary (but then, when has an English accent NOT been funny).  In a strange way, both Thomas and Hoechlin appear to perform Hall Pass as if it were a drama about two men finding themselves in love with two women they know are married but don't appear to realize they are married (if that makes any sense).  In all their scenes, they are playing it straight with no sense that this is suppose to be a comedy, making it even more odd.

The same goes for Wilson.  Near the end of Hall Pass, he gives a monologue about when he first slept with his wife and just how important she and his kids are that is quite beautiful and well-acted, but again, it's almost from a drama than from a comedy.  Sudeikis is trying to make Fred funny, but the material doesn't help him and he always comes across as a teenager trapped in a man's body if not downright dumb.  There's the rub as they say: both Rick and Fred are so incredibly dim you can't expect these guys to have nefarious ideas about women, more like teen boys who giggle at the mention of the word "breasts".

Side note: I REALLY could have done without seeing any penises in Hall Pass.  While we didn't see either Wilson or Sudekis' sex organs, but when your closing credits have "Naked Guy #1" and "Naked Guy #2" as sources of comedy, again, you're in trouble.  There's also a post-credit scene that is just unfunny because it tries too hard to be. 

It is not sad, perhaps frustrating, that Hall Pass could have been more.  It could have been funny, it could have been clever, but it wasn't.  Instead, it all plays out like ideas that were thrown around for a comedy that were strung together in the hopes that it would work.  It didn't, and this Hall Pass is permanently revoked.

DECISION: D-

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