Insignificant Men With Stiffies

Some people you just can’t trust about comedies, and the guy who told me that the laughs in Hall Pass (Warner Bros., 2.25) are hilariously gross and vile and made him bust a gut is now one of them. He’s a good guy and a smart critic, but he’s off the “trust” list. The next time he tells me some new film is really funny I’m gonna go “cool, fine, thanks for telling me” and then ignore the shit out of every word he’s just said.

I saw this Bobby and Peter Farrelly film last night, and I’m telling you straight and true that although it’s wiser and more balanced than I expected, it’s not especially funny. It’s a reasonably well written and well-acted thing. Costars Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate are moderately okay. But I got one half-decent guffaw out of it — a guffaw that was more about saying to myself “whoa, they just tried to get a laugh out of an excremental discharge!” rather than “wow, excremental discharge can be really hilarious!”

Hall Pass is an attempt by a couple of older guys with a little wisdom and life experience under their belts to deliver some kind of raunchy-outrageous sex comedy about married life that might appeal to both younger and older guys and perhaps even resuscitate some of that old Something About Mary pizazz. But the Farrelly’s have become older guys (Peter is 56, Bobby is 53) in more ways than one. They’re no longer into situational farce for its own sake, and have basically become social realists who listen to their own observations and make movies about the banality and limitations of life, or what I would call the awful truth of things.

Everyone knows the premise by now. Wilson and Sudeikis are a couple of obsessives with bad clothes and sappy haircuts who live in Providence, R.I., respectively married to Fischer and Applegate and constantly dreaming about boning other women. Eventually the wives, frustrated by their husbands’ adolescence, accept the advice of a best-selling pop psychologist (Joy Behar) and give little hubbies a week off from marriage — i.e., a 7-day freebie.

I enjoyed the company of Fischer and Applegate much more than that of Wilson and Sudeikis because the women, at least, have a semblance of maturity and self-awareness whereas the guys are just deluded tools. I also felt more satisfied with scenes in which the wives, who’ve gone with their kids to Cape Cod during the weeklong hiatus, get lucky themselves and have to grapple with cheating and guilt and so on.

Question: why don’t Wilson and Sudeikis simply hire a couple of expensive pros to hang with for seven days? They apparently have a couple of grand to throw around so why not? The dumbest guys in the world understand that the odds of 40-something types getting lucky right away are not high, and that even if you meet a nice prospect it might take two or three weeks to close the deal. What idiot with only seven days to romp around wouldn’t engage a prostitute?

Wilson and Sudeikis are not the kind of characters I can identify with and/or accept as some kind of stand-in. Suburban dorks, delusional, too unaware, too slow. I’m cooler and smarter than these assholes any day of the week.

Most of the laughs in Hall Pass are saying that most middle-aged married guys who dream about cheating and horn-dogging are semi-pathetic frauds who just haven’t the necessary nerve or selfishness or imagination to score, for the most part. Or even get lucky. Because when Wilson and Sudeikis do luck into something, they turn into softies who just want to run home to their wives and the safety of their beds and the usual routines and falling asleep at 9:30 pm on Saturday nights.

Not only is much of this film not funny, but some of it is mildly depressing. And there’s one visual gag — a bit that makes a point about moderately attractive women preferring to surround themselves with homely friends at clubs so they’ll look better by contrast — seems flat-out cruel and misogynist. I’m not going to explain in any detail, but it’s rare when a gag makes me actually recoil and say “what?” to myself, as in “do the filmmakers realize what they’re putting out here?”

In a way this movie is like one of those Warner Brothers prison dramas from the ’30s with George Raft and Jimmy Cagney. Forget Hall Pass — they should call it Each Dawn I Die. It’s a film about a couple of inmates in their early 40s who are stuck and confined and have nowhere to go except toward a renunciation of adolescent hormonal lust and a kind of passive acceptance or submission to the fact their poon days are over and done with. Love and trust and safety and security aren’t bad things, obviously, but there’s also something immensely depressing about a couple of would-be Lewis and Clark types getting spooked by the sound of the first squirrel and running back to the safety of home sweet home.

  • BobbyLupo

    “I’m not going to explain in any detail”

    It’s in the trailer anyway.

  • LexG

    Jeff, let me assure as a doughy, boring white guy who’s ONLY ever worked soul-crushing office jobs and who’s been in long-term relationships of a marriage-like vibe and has needed to get laid, badly, for over half a decade:

    White office dorks don’t know where to get escorts. Or how. And especially square guys with wives or girlfriends are not going to have the balls to hire a pro, if only for the disease factor alone, because I’m assuming they’re good guys who love their wives in the movie, but just desperately, desperately need some new sex. And whatever the truth of the situations, square guys like this automatically assume that some workaday chick picked up at an Applebee’s is less likely to have an STD than a working pro.

    I don’t want to get into a flight of fancy that goes to far afield, but since Jeff asked the specific question: AS a white collar office drone who needs to get laid, I HAVE researched escort sites and services, and there’s NO EARTHLY WAY a regular guy would have the balls to do that. There’s the issue of venue, whether you want a hooker coming to YOUR house, and probably bringing a bodyguard/driver who will wait in your living room while you do the deed in back… Do you rent a hotel room, how do you know how many guys she’s already had appointments with that night? There is literally NO WAY to guarantee a working girl is not carrying a disease. Even the high-class girls a Sheen or Spitzer might get, they could’ve just as easily worked a Source party or serviced some ’80s glam rocker mere hours earlier, and been newly exposed to an STD.

    “Get a hooker” is such a rallying cry in this post-porn, Sheen era where we see senators with the INSANE NERVE to be doing that shit even though they’re married…. For the regular guy, that’s like telling them to go down to Compton and steal a brick from a crew of gangbangers.

    It’s not possible.

  • Kakihara

    Oh well, then I’ll bet on “Take Me Home Tonight”, I guess.

  • moorish

    ^Just have to say that the above is the GREATEST LexG comment OF ALL TIME.

  • PJ

    TV spots and trailers were screaming BIG LAUGH COMEDY! but when I saw it it was more like confused adolescent dramedy.

  • LexG

    I remember Dumb and Dumber and Kingpin being laugh-a-minute awesome, but for all its popularity and enduring love, always thought LOOOONG stretches of There’s Something About Mary were kind of arid and laugh free. Especially all the stuff with Lee Evans or Lee Pace or whatever with the crutches; Saw it in a packed theater opening weekend and just NOBODY laughing at those bits, seemed like it was 20, 30 minutes overlong with whole reels that produced only mild chuckles in between the big moments, despite it being a solid movie overall.

    And Me Myself and Irene was practically a DRAMA, 30-40 minutes stretches without more than a minor chuckle.

    Then again, I liked Fever Pitch and Stuck On You.

  • Chris Willman

    I went to this last night based on Jeff’s anonymous passed-along recommendation, and I feel the same sense of betrayal. I laughed or was tempted to laugh about six times. Which is more than most studio comedies, frankly, but still not worth the long stretches of painful deadness here… Yes, everything I’m saying here could be said of “Heartbreak Kid” or most of the films that came before, so I’m the sucker for imagining they might ever again having something a fifth as good as “Kingpin” in them.

    Against my better judgment, I will admit to being surprised by and enjoying the single grossest sight gag I’ve ever seen in a movie. Still not worth the (free) price of admission.

  • Pinko Punko

    Lex,

    I feel like the Punch Drunk Love subplot between Phlly Seymour Hoffman’s character running the chatline and Sandler covered the existential fears of a regular shmo getting involved with the illicit. Literally, the mind would immediately go to blackmail or worse by creepy thugs. It simply isn’t possible for various people to consider these things.

    Other note- how many people have the same opinion of burned-ness by our proprietor over Hot Tub Time Machine? That is how comedy works.

  • Rashad

    How Tub Time Machine was very solid.

  • BobbyLupo

    Yeah, you had to flush it twice.

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    I feel the same sense of betrayal. I laughed or was tempted to laugh about six times. Which is more than most studio comedies.
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  • AshleyShaw

    I bet this movie will rock the world
    whatever the truth of the situations, square guys like this automatically assume that some workaday chick picked up at an Applebee’s is less likely to have an STD than a working pro.

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