Monday, March 21, 2011

Film Review with Robert Mann - Hall Pass

Hall Pass NO STARS

Back in the 1990s Bobby and Peter Farrelly were considered to be two of the hottest things in mainstream movie comedy. Their 1994 film Dumb and Dumber launched their directorial careers with a big commercial success and established their own particular, some might say unique (for the time at least), comedic style but, looking past their 1996 flop Kingpin, it was their 1998 film There’s Something About Mary that really made their names. Starring Cameron Diaz and Ben Stiller, that film was a huge box office success, the biggest hit of the Farrelly’s careers in fact, and also (somewhat inexplicably given that I found the film to be abysmally unfunny and outrageously offensive) a big critical hit as well, the film even having since become a benchmark by which some people rate other similarly styled comedies.
Ever since that film, the Farrelly Brothers have been coasting on their one huge success, the words “From the guys that brought you There’s Something About Mary” being a rather common ploy to try and get people to see their films. Alas, though, There’s Something About Mary was truly the highpoint of their career and ever since their films have been performing increasingly poorly at the box office and critics have become none too keen on them either. While the likes of Me, Myself and Irene and Shallow Hal have enjoyed some box office success, their performances were extremely weak by comparison to There’s Something About Mary and more recent Farrelly Brothers films such as Stuck on You, Fever Pitch (entitled The Perfect Catch here in the UK) and The Heartbreak Kid have truly established the filmmaking duo as two filmmakers no one gives a damn about anymore. For a while, though, it did seem like this might change. 

Bobby and Peter Farrelly’s latest film Hall Pass, while having emerged as another box office dud following its release in the states last month, did for a while look like it might just have the potential to bring their string of failures to an end, a fair amount of decent hype having preceded its release in cinemas. Owen Wilson, while not being the most consistent box office draw, has generally proven to be relatively popular in many of the comedies he has been in and is consistently a very entertaining performer and, having found fame on American live comedy TV show Saturday Night Live (a show which has previously launched the careers of many of Hollywood’s most successful comedy stars, even though, aside from the brilliant Tina Fey, its output has been less impressive in recent years), co-star Jason Sudeikis has emerged as the latest comedy star with the potential to break out – although judging by the underwhelming box office for Hall Pass he clearly hasn’t. 

And they are joined by British comedian Stephen Merchant, American actresses/comedy stars Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate and Richard Jenkins, an actor who has really become someone to watch out for in Hollywood, his incredible performances in the last year including that of the Autistic father in Dear John, the Texan who finds spirituality at an Indian shrine in Eat Pray Love and the serial killing ‘father’ of Chloe Moretz’s ‘young’ vampire girl in Let Me In. As far as casting is concerned this seems to be a film that has done no wrong but, while the basic premise – based on a spec script by newcomer screenwriter Pete Jones with the screenplay being co-written by Jones along with the Farrelly Brothers and The Heartbreak Kid co-writer Kevin Barnett – is one that definitely displays comedic potential, it has been a long time since the Farrelly’s have made a film that has widely been regarded to be funny (even longer, if like me, you really can’t stand their stuff) so the question has to be really asked – does their Hall Pass give them a break from their suckiness or does this film just end up being the latest unfunny and grossly offensive comedy from the (extremely untalented – that’s my opinion) filmmaking duo?

To all intensive purposes, Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis), best buddies for years, appear to be happily married to their wives Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Grace (Christina Applegate). Privately, however, they have both become extremely frustrated with the routine and lack of excitement of married life. Behind their wives’ backs they frequently talk about other women, sex and how they would like to have sex with other women and they even look at other women’s rears when they are in the presence of their wives! Their pathetic and lewd behaviour has not gone unnoticed by Maggie and Grace who have become tired of their husbands’ obsession with sex and inappropriate behaviour and their marriages are in major trouble as a result. 

An unorthodox solution, however, is offered up by Dr. Lucy (Joy Behar), a psychiatrist friend of the women – give their husbands a “hall pass”. A “hall pass” grants each of the husbands one week off marriage to do exactly they want without consequences. The ladies are confident that the guys will quickly realise that even though there's plenty of totty available, none of it is interested in them. And they’re right but this doesn’t stop Rick and Fred from trying to score with everyone and their mum as Rick tries to hit it off with hot blonde Australian waitress Leigh (Nicky Whelan) and Fred finds himself being hit on by Aunt Meg (Kristin Carey), the mature mother of Paige (Alexandria Daddario), the babysitter of Rick’s children, who thinks that he is actually Rick. 

Striking out and humiliating themselves in a variety of ways, all while their mates Gary (Stephen Merchant), Hog-Head (Larry Joe Campbell) and Flats (J.B. Smoove) watch on, the guys turn to renowned ladies man Coakley (Richard Jenkins), who has a unique ability for eyeing up horny women and who is “like a Beautiful Mind”, but even when the opportunity arises can they really bring themselves to cheat on their wives or will they realise just how much they truly love them? And, just as importantly, as their wives, who think their husbands are actually cheating on them, get hit on by baseball players Rick (Bruce Thomas) and Brent (Tyler Hoechlin), will their wives be faithful to them? The boys are determined to make their week off from marriage work for the sake of men on hall passes everywhere but perhaps the hall pass is for a very different purpose than the one they thought...

Directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly have not been relevant in a very long time and Hall Pass is not a film that is going to change this. Clearly a comedy aimed more at male viewers than female ones, although managing to actually be offensive to both genders – not all men are sex obsessed sleazebags who gawk at every woman with big breasts who we pass by as this film seems to suggest we are – this film sees the Farrelly Brothers hit rock bottom. With much of the dialogue being sexually orientated, the way the male characters speak about and objectify women is offensive and demeaning, entire conversations being based around the idea of banging hot girls – and the dialogue is, of course, unsophisticated and puerile, the kind of stuff you might expect some horny teenager to write but less so men of a more advanced age like the Farrelly’s. 

A lot of women who feature have big breasts and “nice” asses, feeding into a chauvinistic vision of what the perfect woman would look like (a vision which I most definitely don’t share), and the humour continues in such offensive fashion. Vulgar and appalling, the physical gags are sickeningly gross at times, gratuitous and often gross nudity comes in both the female and male form and even the dialogue based humour never fails to be completely disgusting. While there are a few scenes that do prove quite funny, for instance a scene that features during the closing credits showing Stephen Merchant’s character imagining what might result if his wife were to give him a hall pass, even these are generally ruined by needless vulgarity – for the aforementioned scene, probably the funniest in the entire film, you may as well just watch the episode of The Graham Norton Show that the clip was shown on and miss the film altogether, particularly as the gross bit is removed on there. 

The cast members most definitely aren’t at the top of their game here either, something which doesn’t exactly help the humour along. Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis are normally pretty funny but not here and they make for an extremely crude double act. The characters they are playing are not good guys and anyone with good taste will find it hard to give a damn about the characters and what happens to them, the husbands being extremely easy to hate. Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate don’t fare a whole lot better either, fortunately not having to deal with the level of vulgarness that their male co-stars do but still being massively underserved by a script that offers little in terms of dialogue and even less in terms of plot – there being little that resembles the latter here, the film mostly seeming like a succession of very bad comedy sketches. 

As for other cast members, Stephen Merchant just seems out of place among the cast and Larry Joe Campbell seems to do little more than say “I need a poo” and, in one particularly gross scene, actually have one right in the middle of a golf course. In his latest 

unrecognisable turn, however, Richard Jenkins is actually quite fabulous but even he cannot save this monstrosity of a comedy. Even by the Farrelly Brothers’ already low standards, this film is atrocious and even the fact that they delve into irony – the only character who actually ends up cheating is one of the wives (sorry if I’m spoiling the film but it really isn’t worth your time anyway) – doesn’t make us like the male characters any more. Any goodwill earned by the few funny moments is destroyed by the sick and disgusting content and the general offensiveness of everything. 

So, disgusting, offensive and not very funny, even an impressive turn from Richard Jenkins cannot save this literal turd of a movie. Will the concept of the Hall Pass catch on after this film? I highly doubt it.

Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)

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