The cheerful raunch of Bobby and Peter Farrelly’s lucrative comedies come with built-in expectations of seminal and excretory spectacle, and Hall Pass delivers the goods every couple of reels with the clockwork reliability of freefalls in a 007 flick. (Briefly, the mortifying money shots capture a lengthy police observation of masturbation, a portly golfer’s pot-stoked befouling of a sand trap, a whirlpool scene that perpetrates racial/ethnic dick-size myths, and the most expulsive sneeze in cinema history.) But the gross-outs are usually just shit for seasoning the punch bowl in the Farrellys’ warm and fuzzy romances, or better yet, are dialed down in their more eccentric outings like Me, Myself & Irene and Stuck on You.
This time, the misdeeds of white-collar Providence pals Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis)—the names and spirit of I Love Lucy reign—are sparked by their utter failure to hide from their boiling-over spouses (Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate) the “hardwired” habits of scoping out hot women and giving each other scouting reports in locker-room lingo. The wives’ low-concept solution, after Fred is overheard expounding on “the correlation between floppy tits and bigmouthed vaginas,” is to give them a week of freedom from marital fealty to savor whatever honeys their couch-potato flesh can attract, while the gals retreat to Cape Cod and the temptations presented by minor-league baseball jocks.
For its first third, Hall Pass zips along crudely but amiably on its sitcom-episode conceit; Wilson looks all of his 42 years trying to stretch into an aging-dad variation of his well-meaning goofball persona, while Sudeikis shoulders the more pathetic shtick as the pudgy wingman with a file of lame pickup lines and a stealthy reliance on the bedroom practice of “fake chow.” The Farrellys’ fast-paced, shameless rhythm also gets peripheral laughs from the middle-aged cruisers’ wine-stained lips at an Applebee’s pigout, Stephen Merchant as their behaviorally “gay” English poker buddy, the Law & Order musical sting, and women’s abiding love for the comedic stylings of Kathy Griffin.
But once the plot turns to Wilson’s mutual infatuation with a young and mega-fit barista (Nicky Whelan), Sudeikis’s disastrous encounters with a trembling nicotine fiend and an aggressive cougar, and the husbands’ third-act mentoring by a senior swinger (Richard Jenkins in a porkpie and gold chains), the jokes no longer score points off the pathos of sexual self-delusion, but morph into so much slapstick sludge, with a few climactic cop-outs to preserve the sanctity of nuclear-family norms. Applegate is the only principal who shows the snap and polish of an ace sex-farceur; Billy Wilder could have easily fit her into Kiss Me, Stupid in 1964, a bygone physical comedy of adultery that, like Blake Edwards’s 10, lampooned the aging male libido without leaving an aftertaste of schmaltz.