Hall Pass review ?

Owen Wilson likes to stick his penis in women’s vaginas whenever he gets the chance. He’s just “wired” that way, OK? It’s just something men do, OK, so you’d better cut him some slack. OK? So what if men enjoy ogling women in every conceivable situation? It’s natural, right? What hot-blooded man couldn’t resist the allure of woman walking past them on the street? I mean, who would have thought that men would still have to perform masturbation on themselves – gasp – after they got married? Surely it’s inconceivable. An unfathomable injustice. As his pal Jason Sudeikis would have it, they’ve paid for their wives’ successes – they’ve got their homes, their children, their General Electric ovens. Why can’t they, too, realise their dreams of banging hot women half their age? It’s what God made them for.

Enter an omniscient hen-mother-cum-quack-psychiatrist Wilson and Sudeikis’ wives are apparently acquainted with for some reason (in an opening scene she’s named a gender-neutral "Person of the Year"). Using the pretext of some anonymous psychobabble, she alights upon the notion of the mystical “hall pass”, which, we’re told, every commitment-averse male should gorge upon like manna from heaven. That is to say, a hall pass is the permission women can bestow upon their husbands to partake in a week of unadulterated fornicating free of those niggardly commitments that are usually concomitant with pledging to love, honour and obey someone else until you die. But, hey, this hall pass worked wonders for her marriage – why not for these two crazed harridans, driven out of their minds by their husbands’ throbbing biological urges? Alas, after injecting this fanciful notion into their heads, Dr Hall Pass drops off the face of the Earth and the "hilarity" of letting these men off their leashes supposedly ensues. Perhaps she went off to resurrect the corpses of Andrea Dworkin, Kate Millett, and Betty Friedan and smack them around a bit. Or maybe she attended a séance for Richard von Krafft-Ebing, and suggested that his spirit might like to dedicate a new chapter of Psychopathia Sexualis to this phenomenon she’s helped usher into existence. It’s a mystery.

Let’s contexualise the lives of our male leads a bit. Our affluent white middle-aged heroes are ostensibly a pair of sexually rapacious dunces who would register a zero on the Kinsey scale if they knew what it meant, and crack wise about the travails of having to simulate cunnilingus. They also romp around in some sort of mythical fantasy land where they’re able to take a week off work, book into a motel, and join golf and health clubs alike with impunity. All of this, of course, is part of an effort to scout the region for willing sexual partners. Likewise their spouses are able to up Stix at the drop of a hat, and take refuge in some Edenic pastoral nirvana that allows them to befriend a local baseball team who throw pool parties every week within a matter of minutes. But the course of true douchebaggery never did run smooth, and soon our "lovable" dopes are sinking to the level of frequenting erotic massage parlours peopled with shrieking, caricatured Korean women and requesting to be serviced. “This is why the terrorists hate us,” sighs a discontented homemaker at one point, after a rich husband tells his newly buxom wife Alyssa Milano that he’s expecting a return on the down payment for those breast implants he paid for. It should have been the film’s tagline.

But Wilson must be a nice guy because he concedes that, alright, his wife might not have such a “fat ass” after all (no shit – she’s played by the entirely svelte Jenna Fischer), and he stops short of feeling up the 20-year-old babysitter employed to look after his children, even after she inexplicably makes advances on him. Such self-restraint! In fact, by the film’s end it’s a wonder Wilson doesn’t voluntarily elect to become a member of the castrati, and to sing on cruise ships in falsetto tones about the manifest dangers of wavering off the beaten path of absolute commitment to the woman he married. After all, he’s been told by a bare-chested Australian coffee shop attendant after restraining himself from plundering her sexually that he’s a “good guy”. It only took him this absurdly amoral picaresque journey for him to realise the errors of his ways.

Hall Pass is the latest offering from the brothers Farrelly, once the two eagerly horny misfits in fonder times responsible for There’s Something About Mary and Dumb and Dumber.  Since those heady days of the 1990s, they’ve increasingly come to resemble those haunted, desperate uncles who vogue to the Macarena at ironic theme parties, much in the way that their fellow frat-humour iconoclast Kevin Smith used to churn out lo-fi charmers like Clerks has become an inchoate ass with an ego the size of Devonshire. Now, like sniggering schoolchildren, they’re clamouring for phrases like “fake chow” to enter the common lexicon. Their film also includes more corporate product placement than in any recent film I can remember (Splenda, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Ben & Jerry’s and Subway are all well represented).

The minor critical hissy fits that erupted over the reputed misogyny of The Killer Inside Me and The Social Network pale in comparison to the ghastly concatenation of offences on display here. Cases in point: Academy Award nominee Richard Jenkins debases himself in an embarrassing role of a promiscuous, burnt-out party dude in the Slurms McKenzie mould who performs “crawl bys” to better discern if women are wearing thongs or not. In other scene, a nicotine-starved shrew sneezes and evacuates her bowels up a bathroom wall apropos of nothing. Similarly, Stephen Merchant forfeited all right to speak of anything with authority ever again once he agreed to appear in a film that required him to eat space brownies and debate the merits of having his junk sucked for seven minutes by a hypothetical homosexual.

This thematic terrain used to be the stuff of psychosexual monomania – witness Jules Feiffer’s screenplay for 1971’s Carnal Knowledge, or Nic Roeg’s Bad Timing which again cast Art Garfunkel as worryingly proficient pervert. Now it’s fodder for mainstream comedy.

Give me Salo, regale me with Irreversible. Just don’t make me sit through Hall Pass again. 

Hall Pass at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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