Movie review: The Farrelly Bros.' Hall Pass, starring Owen Wilson, Jenna Fischer, Jason Sudeikis and Christina Applegate (with trailer video)

An air of “been there, done that” lingers over the entirety of Hall Pass. The premise — two men given a pass to play outside the bonds of marriage for a week — feels tired and, in light of our narcissistic times, pretty lame and unprovocative. Owen Wilson and Jenna Fischer make for a cute married-with-children pair, comfortably in the same middle-class league with onscreen spouses Jason Sudeikis and Christina Applegate.

Yes, Hall Pass is sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. But the humor isn’t born of character or circumstance or misunderstanding. Instead, the movie clumsily drags a series of moments strung along loosely by a gimmicky premise masquerading as plot. A scene of the boys getting plastered in a bar and making asses of themselves is over in a blink. When Wilson’s character awakens to find himself staring at a penis — yes, it’s shown, and not for just a moment — the naughtiness of the episode is muted by knowing just how desperate it is for the laughs that ensue. Unlike the Farrelly Brothers’ better movies, Hall Pass never reaches the sustained zaniness and unpredictability that would make its flaws easier to overlook.

The issuance of the titular hall pass feels forced, with no satisfying, believable rationale behind it, and the brothers can’t bridge the gap between their characters’ doofus tomfoolery and the serious nature of the topic of extramarital sex. Even when the film gets the details right — a dance club scene captures the distance between the vitality of youth and square middle age — it doesn’t allow the characters to give full expression to their discomfort or regret. And that may be the biggest debit of Hall Pass. The film’s premise is rife with possibilities for gleaning comedy from issues of commitment, monogamy, jealousy and self-identification. But every time the movie flirts with pushing its characters deep into uncomfortable situations, it pulls out, a sort of humorous interruptus.

It’s telling that the most interesting thing about Hall Pass is its inclusion of “Monkberry Moon Delight” in the soundtrack. But even there, the Farrelly Brothers’ predilection for quirky musical choices is part of the same formula. Only the names change. The rest remains the same.

It’s pretty well established what can be expected from a movie by the Farrelly Brothers. Moments of romantic tenderness are employed to provide emotional ballast to nonsensical plots marked by a series of raunchy episodes memorable — or reviled — for their outrageous physical-based comedy. Efforts like Dumb & Dumber and There’s Something About Mary are among the more successful examples of this formula, one that has continued through films like Me, Myself & Irene, Stuck on You and The Heartbreak Kid. In other words, the brothers rarely stray outside their comfort zone. And as their latest proves, that’s a problem.

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