Comedic talent underutilized in Hall Pass
Every romantic comedy walks the line between sappy and raunchy, trying to carefully balance the “guy humor” with the relationship stuff. It’s easy to stray a little too far into the romance and lose the laughs. This tightrope walk is never easy and, despite its talented cast, Hall Pass never really seems to find its footing.
The film stars Owen Wilson as Rick, an average guy with a wife (Jenna Fischer) and young children. Surprise, surprise, he’s bored with his life and misses the glory days of his youth when he could party and get chicks. It doesn’t help that his best friend Fred (Jason Sudeikis) is equally bored in his marriage to his wife (Christina Applegate) and is ten times more vocal about it. After receiving some advice from a therapist friend (Joy Behar) the two wives decide to give their husbands a temporary “hall pass” from marriage, letting them run wild for a week.
The guys team up with their friends, Stephen Merchant, J.B. Smoove and Larry Joe Campbell, and set out to party like it’s 1989. Of course, having been off the market for so long makes them completely out of touch with today’s flirtation techniques, so they stumble their way through bars and restaurants, awkwardly embarrassing themselves in front of every woman they meet.
At the same time, their wives decide the hall pass works both ways and begin having some fun of their own. In one of those sappy romcom moments, everyone realizes that, now that they have the freedom to be with whoever they want, what they really want is their spouse.
With Wilson, Sudeikis, Smoove and Merchant in the cast, it’s fair to assume Hall Pass will be filled with laughs, but the tone of the movie is all over the place and goes for long stretches of time without enough comedy.
Take, for example, the beginning of the film. It’s called Hall Pass, so we know that the “week off from marriage” premise will eventually be introduced, but it seems like ages before it actually gets there. Instead, we spend several scenes getting to know these one-dimensional characters whose entire backstory can practically be read from their wardrobe and haircuts. After we finally get to the hall passes, the story schizophrenically swings between corny romance and Farrelly Brothers gross-out humor. Those gross-out bits seem tacked on, like the Farrellys made a PG-13 movie, but knew their fans would expect something R-rated.
We know that Wilson can be funny, as we’ve seen in Wedding Crashers and even way back in Zoolander, but he’s stuck playing a boring straight man here. Sudeikis is given much of the comedic responsibility and brings his best to the table. Sadly, he can’t carry it all by himself, especially in the passenger seat. The limited screen time for Smoove and Merchant seems like an enormous missed opportunity, keeping the film from transitioning into a true comedy. Even a talented comedic actress like Applegate feels wasted as an everyday suburban mom.
Maybe we can chalk this up to editing, but it almost seems like they were making two versions of the same movie and ended up sticking them together. Still, wasting all that comedy potential seems like a real tragedy.