A Farrelly brothers comedy sets hubbies and wives free for a week of philandering. Some hilarity ensues.
"Hall Pass" captures the thrill that grown men get from a dirty joke and sustains it for almost the whole picture. The film, starring Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis as Dockers-and-minivan dorks given a weeklong reprieve from their marriage vows by their wives, is a prankish satire of men's erotic daydreams.
Those cheerful shlockmeisters Peter and Bobby Farrelly, who co-wrote and directed the film, are more laid-back here than they were in "There's Something About Mary," "Kingpin" or "Dumb and Dumber." They make you laugh at some pretty revolting things, and the ratio of sexual/scatological giggles to groaners is high. But the brothers dialed back the lewd lunatic energy that is their signature. The film's longest-running gag is that the men, sprung from the straitjacket of monogamy, leer at almost every woman they get near, but are too square and meek to score.
Wilson, his romantic butterscotch mane shorn into a conspicuously awful haircut, looks the way he must have in the third grade. The nerd look says emphatically that this is not Owen Wilson, sex symbol. He does an unglamorous turn as Rick, a Rhode Island real estate salesman whose marriage to Maggie (dimpled Jenna Fischer) has become a swamp of sexual boredom.
His buddy Fred (Sudeikis) is his co-conspirator in such doofus misdemeanors as leering at nubile baristas and engaging in bawdy poker-night braggadocio. Fred is the more helpless case, retreating to the solitude of his Honda Odyssey to achieve a sense of release that's nowadays unavailable with his wife, Grace (Christina Applegate).
When the wives follow a therapist's advice and cut the boys loose for one week of whatever shenanigans they choose, they head for the hot action at an over-lit chain restaurant.
As their days of freedom tick by fruitlessly (there's an explosive laugh when the title card "Day 5" appears), their wives are on their own vacation, inspiring some major cougar attention from a baseball team playing at their seaside resort. The story becomes a four-way race to see who will score and who will chicken out.
The film is shapeless but crammed with episodic pleasures. The reliable character actor Richard Jenkins, a specialist in long-faced depressive types, cuts loose as Coakley, a grinning hipster Yoda who coaches the boys on the fine points of modern-day speed seduction: Move fast and aim low.
Applegate, the hot blonde of the moment some years ago, gets a funny/humiliating lesson on the half-life of sex appeal during a tryst with a younger man. Wilson and Sudeikis make an affable, rambunctious pair, and the Farrellys' comedic timing and knack for sight gags is as sharp as ever.
"Hall Pass" is no classic, but compared with such recent midlife crisis rom-coms as "Date Night," "Just Go With It" and "The Dilemma," it's a solid achievement.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186