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‘Hall Pass’ is creators’ funniest, charming comedy since ‘Mary’

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Jason Wallis

Posted: Friday, March 4, 2011 9:39 am

We’re back to new movies this week with a quick look at “Hall Pass,” the latest raunchy comedy from Farrelly brothers (it was a close call between that and the Nic Cage exploitation vehicle “Drive Angry” — they both got terrible reviews, so I literally flipped a coin). Next week we’ll take a peek at “Rango,” followed by “Battle: Los Angeles.” Not the best lineup, but not the worst, either. 

Also, please see below for my obligatory mini-commentary on last weekend’s Oscar telecast. I didn’t have the best showing when it came to predicting the races — 16 out of 24, giving me second place in the office pool behind Heather, who took the whole thing and won our $20 side-bet with 17 correct guesses. Alas, no readers out-did me, so there is no winner to announce in the Outguess Jason Contest. Next year we’ll set it up with more advanced notice and cooler prizes, and will hopefully have more success. Meantime …

“Hall Pass”

★★ 1/2 (out of four)

2011, Bobby and Peter 

Farrelly, U.S., R

Back in the mid-’90s, I was just about the biggest Farrelly brothers fan in the world. In the four years spanning 1994 to 1997, they released no fewer than three comic masterworks (“Dumb and Dumber,” “Kingpin” and, best of all, “There’s Something About Mary”) that, I had assumed, would cement their reputations as the gross-out equivalents of Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder for decades to come. Then, after the unprecedented critical and financial success of “Mary,” things fell apart — rapidly and violently.

The good news: “Hall Pass” is easily their funniest, most charming and most genuinely heartfelt comedy since their 1997 magnum opus. Many of the funniest gags involve raunch-flick staples like pot brownies and public masturbation, but the filmmakers often get a surprising amount of mileage out of familiar material. The story moves along at a brisk place, and the Farrellys resist the temptation to turn their buddy flick into a mere reworking of “The Hangover.” The bad news, though, is that the filmmakers are still trying too hard. For every joke that works, there are five overly labored comic set-pieces that fall flat.

The story follows two friends, Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis), who have found themselves in midlife crisis, beaten down by domestic pressures. In order to shake up their waning affections — and prove that it’s not as easy as they think it is to pick up other women — their wives (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate, respectively) follow the advice of their sex-therapist friend and present their hubbies with “hall passes” good for one week off marriage. Insane hijinx ensue as the wives depart for the week, leaving Rick and Fred to seize their destinies and temporarily live the wild lives they always wanted.

Of course, “Hall Pass” is not a flat-out sex comedy. The film becomes surprisingly heartfelt as our titular heroes slowly realize the implications of their situation, and Wilson and (especially) Sudeikis do a fine job of making these ridiculous men both likeable and sympathetic. But intermittent charm and a fun cast can only get you so far — particularly when the rest of your film is so labored and obvious. I used to think that the Farrellys weren’t trying hard enough to match their vintage efforts, but now it has become clear that they are trying entirely too hard.

Another disappointing Oscar show

Like most viewers, I was more than a little dismayed by the dull Academy Awards telecast. Oscar shows are rarely engaging (most of the excitement comes from the buildup), but this one seemed particularly half-hearted — and, in the end, infuriating. Here is my annual bullet-pointed take on the show:

• The biggest problem, obviously, was the hosts. When she was alone on stage Anne Hathaway was a delight, but it soon became painfully clear that, despite the promising pre-show promos, she and co-host James Franco shared absolutely no chemistry. Their banter may have been impaired by Franco’s apparently inebriated state, but the problem goes beyond the squinted eyes and dulled reactions: Franco seemed to genuinely resent the fact that he was playing host. Now, I’m all in favor of blazing up and treating the whole Oscar telecast like the big joke that it is — but if you go that route, make sure you’re at least marginally entertaining. My suggestion: Bring back Billy, or hand the show over to natural showman Kevin Spacey. Permanently.

• The biggest shock of the evening: David Fincher (“The Social Network”) lost the Best Director award to Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”). Words like “outrageous” and “insanity-inducing” don’t even begin to cover this outright scandal, which serves as history’s best argument that anyone who actually looks to the Academy Awards as a semi-accurate barometer for quality filmmaking is a damn fool. I defy anyone to look me in the eye and tell me with a straight face that of the two films, it was “The King’s Speech” that exhibited the keener understanding of mise-en-scene and the language of cinema. Go on, I dare ya.

• Another slight, although not nearly as egregious: Hailee Steinfeld (“True Grit”) fell to Melissa Leo (“The Fighter”) in the supporting actress race, despite the fact that Steinfeld had a much larger, more subtle, more difficult role. In any case, Amy Adams was more impressive than Leo in the same film. But whatever. At least Leo had the decency to give us a time-delayed F-bomb in front of Kirk Douglas.

• Besides Best Director, the two categories I was watching with the most interest were the documentary and foreign-language film races. Unfortunately, my faves (“Exit Through the Gift Shop” and Greece’s “Dogtooth,” respectively) both lost — a huge missed opportunity, since if “Exit” would have won, we might have finally gotten a look at the famously elusive street artist/filmmaker Banksy. But again, whatever — I’m content with the fact that the startling kitty-mutilation scene from “Dogtooth” was broadcast to millions of unsuspecting viewers worldwide. Too funny.

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jasonwallis@comcast.net.

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