***/**** Image B+ Sound A- Extras C-
starring Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate
screenplay by Pete Jones & Peter Farrelly and Kevin Barnett & Bobby Farrelly
directed by Peter Farrelly & Bobby Farrelly
by Ian Pugh SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. Rick Mills (Owen Wilson) is in real estate and Fred Searing (Jason Sudeikis) sells life insurance--and yet these guys treat their own marriages, indeed their own lives, as an epic burden, so where do they get off trying to sell us peace-of-mind? Their leering obsession with sex has become all-consuming of late, prompting their wives (Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Grace (Christina Applegate)) to grant them a hall pass: a "week off from marriage" in which they have the freedom to do whatever they want with the opposite sex without fear of recrimination. The Farrelly Brothers' Hall Pass tells a fairly conventional story about men and women who very slowly come to recognize just how much they love their significant others. But one thing it doesn't fully reconcile is this impulse that finds the movie's middle-aged male characters blinking madly at attractive women, taking "mental photographs for [their] spank bank"--because even once they've learned their lessons and shouted them from the rooftops, they're still taking those mental photographs. Beneath a thin veneer of sex jokes, the movie is about the denial and suppression of regret that occurs in the quest for long-term happiness.
The first trick to understanding the Farrellys' latest is accepting that there's nothing particularly daring about Rick and Fred's brief return to the nightlife--the days of which are separated by "Law & Order"-esque title cards, an association that establishes these men as far out of their element. Most of the time, Rick and Fred are flanked by their fellow married schlubs, who aren't around to actively participate in extramarital shenanigans but do catch a whiff of that newfound "freedom" as they dick around with massage parlours and pot brownies. Perhaps these escapades feel a bit too childish for their own good, but that's precisely the point: every single attempt on our heroes' part to utilize the hall pass ends in the revelation that they're too old for this shit.
Although Rick is the first to state his concern that he may have pushed Maggie to take drastic measures to save their marriage, pride and machismo inevitably get the better of him as he sets his sights on a young, Australian barista (Nicky Whelan). Hall Pass is the movie that Couples Retreat wanted to be--a comic dissection of mid-life crises that focuses on personal insecurities rather than on external forces. The Farrellys are never afraid to attribute their scripted miseries to the protagonists' own flaws. In fact, there are moments where emotional maturity doesn't even enter into the equation; as the week trudges on, we realize that Rick and Fred are physically incapable of keeping up with their old college routines. (After a not-particularly-raucous night of drinking, they spend an entire day recovering in bed.) The problem isn't the hall pass itself--it's the fact that Rick and Fred treat the concept as some magical portal back to their twenties that simply doesn't exist. It's a slightly-hackneyed journey to realizing what they have in life, albeit a pleasant one to sit through.
Again, it's easy to confuse the film with any number of bullshit romcoms from the past few years. (Since I appear to be invoking old Judd's name an awful lot lately, I'll admit that the Apatovian approach to comedy casts a much longer shadow than I ever anticipated.) At first glance, it may seem like the Farrellys are using their characters' physical and intellectual limitations to justify a modern morality play, but pay close attention as Rick and Fred team up with their friend Coakley (Farrelly mainstay Richard Jenkins), a globetrotting womanizer well into his sixties. While the picture raises an eyebrow at his cruelly distant appraisals of women, it refuses to categorize him outright as either a happily-rolling stone or a pathetic lecher. That's because Hall Pass isn't comfortable in casting judgment on the behaviour of others--all it really knows for sure is that Rick and co. are individuals who care very deeply for their friends and family. (Being something of a Jason Sudeikis skeptic, I was surprised to see him overcome with convincing panic at the suggestion that Grace had been injured.) And yet, when everyone finally accepts their age, the movie remains consumed with the fear of what you will "regret...for the rest of your life"--the missed opportunities for one-night stands and the sacrifices made in the name of happiness and security, chief among them the illusion of invincibility and immortality. In other words, Hall Pass is first and foremost concerned with the pitfalls of being human. If the Farrellys' standard gross-outs and shock gags aren't given enough context to work within the premise, this is nevertheless their most fully-developed movie. And as in all their best endeavours, a beating heart is always present.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Warner brings Hall Pass to Blu-ray in an "Enlarged Edition" featuring both the theatrical and an extended cut of the film, the latter running six minutes longer. (Alas, the absence of a deleted-footage marker makes it difficult to keep track of the differences between them, though these seem minor at best.) Surprisingly for a Farrelly Brothers joint, there's no commentary on this disc (even the lower-grossing The Heartbreak Kid got one)--in fact, there's not much in the way of supplementary material at all, save a 1-minute gag reel (no one ever profanely self-flagellated as adorably as Jenna Fischer does here) and a deleted scene (4 mins., HD) in which Richard Jenkins's Coakley talks his way out of a D.U.I.. Why this elision wasn't reintegrated into the extended cut I have no idea: it's tense, funny, and a swell showcase for Jenkins. Maybe the feeling was that it cast too much skepticism on the guys' hero worship of Coakley too soon. Shot in Super35, Hall Pass itself is presented in a filmic 2.40:1, 1080p transfer that brings into relief the unfortunately dim and flat cinematography of repeat offender Matthew F. Leonetti. Detail is good if often unflattering, and while the jaundiced colours feel intentional, another product of colour-blind grading during the Digital Intermediate process, that doesn't make them any more palatable. The attendant 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is an unimpeachable rendering of an uninspired mix, with music sounding especially full. Ambient acoustics can be fairly persuasive considering the genre. Spots touting Warner's Blu-ray slate and Insider Rewards program cue up on startup along with an anti-smoking PSA; a Digital Copy of Hall Pass is included on a DVD inside the keepcase. Originally published: June 20, 2011.