First, a short lesson in monarchy. Once upon a brief time, the Farrelly brothers enjoyed a reign as the kings of pop comedy, earning the crown by taking that regal genre, toilet humour, and giving it a graphic push into hitherto uncharted parts of the lavatory.
No one would accuse them of excessive smarts, yet only a prude would deny that, culminating in There's Something About Mary, the two had a clever and inventive touch with all things gross.
But then along came Judd Apatow who, tilling the same general terrain, managed to grow pockets of actual wit, and buds of warmth, and – who would have thought it – characters not completely incredible. Well, the kings were dead, long live King Judd.
Not that the Farrellys abdicated immediately. However, since an ill-fated attempt to borrow from their betters – that lame remake of Elaine May's The Heartbreak Kid – they lapsed into a nearly five-year silence. With Hall Pass, the silence is broken.
Alas, if this is any indication, so are the brothers – they've always lacked the wit to be Apatow, now they even lack the confidence to be themselves.
Consider the premise: A pair of middle-aged guys, Rick and Fred (Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis), are given a "hall pass" by their disenchanted wives to take a week off from the relative tedium of marriage and re-enter the alleged heaven of bachelorhood.
There it is – the whole idea stated in a simple sentence. So why do the Farrellys huff and puff and hem and haw and meander through a full third of the picture before the premise even clicks into low gear? At least the answer isn't long in coming: They don't have clue one where to go with it.
In short, zilch happens. There was definitely something about Mary, but there's nothing, not a damn thing, about Rick & Fred & Co. Now you might think such a lacuna is a tad problematic in a feature flick, but give the Farrellys credit. Having created the vacuum, the bros make like nature and pretend to abhor it. They sure can pad.
Example: The liberated husbands get packed off to a restaurant to gorge on greasy food and, thus stuffed, to fall asleep. End of scene, and how we envy them.
Further example: The same hubbies-on-hiatus head out to a singles bar to strike out with come-on lines like, "You must be from Ireland because when I look at you my penis is Dublin." Surprisingly, after these and other equally trenchant displays of comedic acumen, that vacuum still yawns.
Well, what's a couple of erstwhile monarchs to do but fall back on their old plumbing and pump the toilet into the humour. Look – out there on the golf course, just your average par 4 with a dog-leg to the right and a fat man with his pants down pooping in the sand trap.
Look again – in the bathroom, at that impressively multitasking woman, simultaneously sneezing from one orifice while doing something rather more unpleasant from another. And don't miss the two naked gentlemen in the whirlpool, the muscular black fellow and his rotund white buddy, offering full-frontal proof that the gods are decidedly undemocratic in their allotment of blessings.
Those same fickle gods once blessed the Farrellys with some fame and more fortune. But that was then and this is Hall Pass. No doubt, wisdom lies in taking a pass on Hall Pass, but bravery demands something else, something far more instructive: Watch it, every vacuous frame, if only to measure the precise aesthetic distance from blessing to curse.
- Directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly
- Written by Peter and Bobby Farrelly, Pete Jones, Kevin Barnett
- Starring Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis
- Classification: 14A