Friday 11 March 2011

Arsing it up: "Hall Pass" (Metro 11/03/11)

They returned American screen comedy to the rudest of health with There's Something About Mary, but the Farrelly brothers have gone backward of late trying to out-gross those raucous upstarts - Judd Apatow, The Hangover's Todd Phillips - who succeeded them as kings of the mucky chuckle. Having comprehensively trashed The Heartbreak Kid with cross-border bestiality and extravagant body piercings in their 2007 remake, Hall Pass finds the incorrigible pair working over material that might have been tossed out by Men Behaving Badly script editors at the height of the lads-mag phenomenon.

Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis play Rick and Fred, married guys whose wandering eyes and below-the-waist preoccupations drive their other halves (thankless roles for Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate) to daily despair. Seeking to dispel the menfolk's obsession, the girls grant them the carte blanche of the title: a week off marriage to pursue whomsoever they desire. The boys are off like a rocket - only to find their terrible haircuts and John Cougar Mellencamp-derived pick-up lines aren't the hits with the ladies their groinal regions had hoped.

Like much modern comedy, it skews male, although the joke's firmly on these blokes (and anybody inclined to identify with them): oblivious to how unattractive the opposite sex now finds them, Rick and Fred's odyssey will entail more male nudity than female, and spending much of the week in hotel rooms alongside one another, rather than any acquiescing and pliable babes - making Hall Pass the older (but not at all wiser) brother to such frustrated-horndog 80s offerings as Porky's.

Yet with the set-up thus established, the jokes never fall into place. The Farrellys, at their best, were always more conservative (and sweet with it) than the casual Apatow or the rowdy Phillips, and the shock moments in their latest - mostly bottom-related, starting with golf-course defecation and building towards explosive bathroom diarrhoea (or Dumb & Dumber redux) - feel like the work of ageing, sitcom-square gagmen trying desperately to claw their way back into box-office favour.

The narrative never shakes the suspicion everyone's heading exactly back where they came from, merely giving rise to some frankly depressing truths about male middle-age and - even more depressingly - Rick and Fred's moronic-fratboy observations on female beauty, which even the Farrellys of the sloppy Shallow Hal took greater care to distance themselves from. Isolated pockets of mirth include the appearance of Stephen Merchant, whose kill-crazy rampage over the end credits proves more imaginative than anything within the feature proper, and the Farrellys win points, if not many more appreciable laughs, for the casting of Richard Jenkins as the oldest swinger in town. Mostly, it's like Rick and Fred themselves: nowhere near as appealing, outrageous or, on a basic level, funny as it would like to think. Pass, indeed.

Hall Pass opens nationwide today. A shorter version of this review ran in today's Metro, and online here.

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