Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Hall Pass Might Not Be The Hangover, But It Is A LOT Of Fun!

The Good: Very funny, Moments of acting
The Bad: Characters follow very predictable arcs, Jokes are better than the whole.
The Basics: Hall Pass has charm and is funny, but many of the jokes work as well independent of the movie, which strains very hard to keep itself together and be fresh.

March is finally here and with it comes movies that might not necessarily suck.  I say that as I sit to review Hall Pass, which my wife and I took in last night because it was the final big film of the February Doldrums and it did not, rather nicely, suck.  February tends to be a dumping ground for terrible movies, but Hall Pass actually amuses more than it disappoints, which is probably why it is doing so well with critics and moviegoers.  But while I am able to recommend Hall Pass, it is tough to do so when March's early blockbusters are right around the corner.  Hall Pass is a fun flick, but it's not one that truly uses the canvass of the big screen especially well.

Hall Pass is exactly what it appears to be; a "guys night out" comedy flick which, ironically, my wife laughed at more than the five frat boys with whom we shared the theaters.  The humor is generally relationship and gross-out humor, as one might expect from Peter and Bobby Farrelly and their writing partners for the film, Pete Jones and Kevin Barnett.  The film is a big step up from last year's Hot Tub Time Machine (reviewed here!) which fills the same essential niche and was released around the same time.  But for those who are looking to go out to the movies to see something essential on the big screen, it is easy to pass Hall Pass by.  This probably could have been a straight-to-DVD release and not lost any real effect.

Rick and Fred are best friends living in suburbia as a realtor and insurance agent, both married to great women who don't understand quite why their eyes stray, even if they never cheat.  Inspired by a doctor friend of theirs, Maggie and Grace consider giving their men a "hall pass," a week off from marriage.  The idea is that because they married young, they didn't have the chance to "sow their wild oats" or they have forgotten the pain and rejection of dating their marriages saved them from.  So when the guys are touring a rich associate's house and end up on camera insulting the daylights out of all their comrades, the Maggie lets Rick out of their marriage for a week.  Shortly thereafter, after an embarrassing incident with the police and his car, Fred gets a hall pass from Grace as well.

With Maggie and Grace out at Cape Cod for a week, Rick and Fred begin to check out the social scene. The early days of their hall pass are spent dining well and falling asleep, getting wasted on pot brownies and getting rejected.  But as the week comes to a close - and the women find temptation in the form of a traveling baseball team on the Cape - Rick makes a move on Leigh, the barista at a local coffee shop and Fred falls into an initially appealing situation which takes a bizarre turn.

Right before watching Hall Pass, my wife described Why Did I Get Married? to me.  She described that movie as a film about a bunch of guys who sit around kvetching about how bad their wives are and wishing for the good old days of being single.  By the end of the movie, they apparently realize how great their wives are and take it all back.  Before seeing Hall Pass, we pretty much figured that would be what the flick was and it was.  The only substantive difference seems to be that Hall Pass opens with two guys who truly love their wives and who don't seriously consider cheating; they just want a little more sex in their lives, so they look at and think of other women from time to time.

Thus, it is pretty surprising it takes until late in the movie before Maggie realizes just how the idea of the hall pass is working for her and not for Rick.  Rick and Fred are exactly as hapless as Grace originally predicts and watching them becomes more painful than actually entertaining.  Their foibles are hardly as funny or even interesting as the setup insinuates it might be.  Instead, this is a film where the guys try to be something they are not and it becomes gutwrenching to watch in the middle act.  Fortunately, the big finish is worth sticking around for and the scene midway through the closing credits finally gives Steven Merchant a time to shine.  But in between, Hall Pass goes from being a relationship comedy to a pretty lame buddy comedy film and it is unsurprising that the laughs fall off for almost a half hour in the middle.

Ultimately, Hall Pass does not stand up as an even noteworthy character study largely because the characters travel along surprisingly predictable lines.  Rick is loyal like he appears at the outset, but curious about what might be available to him and Fred is jusy lame on the singles scene.  They are ably played by Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis, respectively.  Neither gives a particularly surprising performance, though Owen shows depth one usually associates with Luke Wilson as Rick has the epiphanies about his relationship with Maggie that his character made explicit pretty early on in the movie.

Hall Pass is dominated on the acting front by the strength of the supporting performances.  Steven Merchant is charming in his usual goofy way as Gary and Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate give solid supporting performances.  But when Richard Jenkins finally appears as Coakley, that is when Hall Pass illustrates some genius in the casting department.  Jenkins, who usually plays dignified and articulate is perfectly smarmy as Coakley and he steals the late scenes of Hall Pass with no real effort.

There is enough in Hall Pass to enjoy, but it is not much more than an HBO-style comedy for the big screen.

For other films in theaters, check out my reviews of:
I Am Number Four
The Green Hornet
Black Swan


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts.  May not be reprinted without permission.

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