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Home / Articles / Entertainment / Screen /  Freebie fraught with failure
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Thursday, March 3,2011

Freebie fraught with failure

By Michael Phillips

Up until their remake of The Heartbreak Kid, two of the unfunniest hours ever, Peter and Bobby Farrelly could be counted on to provide a few fine rude laughs even when their films wobbled.

 

Take, for instance, the shot of Jim Carrey attempting to go to the bathroom in Me, Myself & Irene. It’s not repeatable; it’s not tasteful; it’s not a lot of things. But that 29-second shot — crass enough to work as effrontery, followed by a verbal kicker that explains the joke without killing it — makes a good case for the Farrellys’ existence in general and cleverly staged single-take urination gags as executed by Carrey in particular.

Slinging bodily fluids all the way, the Farrellys came to the fore with Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary. Now, many years later (a career and a half in Hollywood years), they’ve been overtaken by Judd Apatow’s gang — boy-men working, often brilliantly, in a more blasé and deadpan vein. The Farrellys were never about subtlety.

I waited for something half as funny as that Me, Myself & Irene joke to arrive in their latest picture, the disappointingly conventional Hall Pass. It stars Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis as Rick and Fred, married pals trying to score outside their marital playing fields with the one-week permission of their wives, Maggie, played by Jenna Fischer, and Grace, played by Christina Applegate. (This is the sort of screenplay that requires smart, witty women such as Fischer and Applegate to make do with what they have.)

Rick and Maggie are happy enough in their marriage, luckier than most, even. But sex has become a sometime thing, their three kids (barely visible in the story) taking up most of their energy. Through a series of strained narrative developments involving two separate and embarrassing overheard conversations (one would’ve sufficed), the wives realize they have a couple of pathetic losers on their hands — serial oglers, hapless middle-age horndogs. So they give ’em a hall pass. The concept, with its potential booty-call payoff, is reiterated frequently and needlessly throughout the film. To wit: “You guys got a hall pass! Live it up!” The film, blandly directed and atrociously lighted, wanders from Rick’s flirtation with an unrealistically gorgeous barista (Nicky Whelan) to Fred’s inept pickup attempts, and then over to Maggie and Grace on vacation at the beach house (cue my raging class issues), where Fischer’s character captures the interest of a college baseball coach, and Applegate’s goes for a player half her age. Like The Hangover, Hall Pass asserts the primacy of home, hearth and monogamy after all its poop and implant and masturbation routines have run their course. The film also takes for granted the inevitability of boys being boys and women enduring their mates’ eternal adolescence.

I liked the epic buildup leading to the entrance of Farrelly regular Richard Jenkins (as the boys’ studly mentor), and the barista has an insanely jealous coworker played by Derek Waters, whose glowers are funnier than everybody else’s dialogue. But it’s secondhand, vaguely resigned material. And while Sudeikis has some talent, he’s not yet ready to co-anchor a feature comedy. He’s no Ed Helms, in other words.

—MCT, Tribune Media Service

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