Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Farrelly bros. strike (out) again

Hall Pass has the expected gross-out humor, but the movie's mostly drab and distasteful.
The Farrelly brothers (Peter and Bobby) never have really matched the comic success they achieved with the legendary There's Something About Mary (1998). The brothers -- also known for Dumb & Dumber (1994) and Kingpin (1996) -- currently are preparing to shoot a movie about The Three Stooges, a subject that should be right up their alley. That's not a slam, but an expression of hope that they'll do the Stooges justice.

Throughout most of their career, the Farrellys have invented new ways to gross us out and make us laugh, usually at the same time. They're at it again with Hall Pass, a typically raunchy (but not particularly funny) effort about a couple of husbands (Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis) whose wives grant them hall passes; i.e., each gets a week off from marriage. And, no, I never heard the term used this way before, either.

If you know the Farrellys work, you know they're eventually going to pull the plug on the off-color stuff in favor of a traditional message about appreciating one's spouse. But the real point of most Farrelly movies can be found in jokes. In this somewhat sparkless outing, you'll find gags about excrement, pot-laced brownies, penises, vomit and various sexual practices. Yeah, I know. For some audiences, a list like that amounts to an endorsement.

But you can almost hear the script meetings at which one or the other of the Farrellys wondered about how far they could go this time. They go pretty far, but they also serve up a movie that tends to be more distasteful than funny.

The general arc of the movie allows for few real surprises. At first, the newly liberated husbands are overjoyed with their freedom. But they're not exactly chick magnets, and they're unable to capitalize on the opportunity to return to the swinging days of bachelorhood. Meanwhile, their wives (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate) fare better. They leave their husbands in Providence, R.I., and head for Cape Cod, where they become involved with a group of amateur baseball players.

The actors seem to have been (if I can invent a word) drabbed down. Wilson adopts what I guess is supposed to pass as a nerdy suburban look. Sudeikis plays the more audacious of the two pals, another grown man stuck in adolescence -- or maybe sub-adolescence. Put another way, these guys aren't much fun to hang around with, a big problem for any buddy-oriented movie.

Richard Jenkins shows up late in the proceedings as Coakley, a man who has maintained his swinging-single status well past the point of attractiveness. Coakley decides to help our hapless heroes find sexual partners. Australian actress Nicky Whelan portrays a sexy barista and possible source of diversion for Wilson's character.

At their best, the Farrellys have turned gross-out humor into a kind of art form; it's just that Hall Pass seldom shows them at their best.

Also opening....


Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton, John Leguizamo and Jacob Latimore join director Brad Anderson in pursuit of B-movie pleasures. Set in Detroit, Vanishing on 7th Street follows four survivors of an unexplained cataclysm that has left the city in total darkness. The encroaching darkness seems to have swallowed folks whole, and threatens our quartet of frightened survivors. Working from a script by Andrew Jaswinski, Anderson conjures up creepy thrills, and probably was right not to explain how this particular apocalypse got started. An ensemble cast gives performances of varying effectiveness as Vanishing on 7th Street takes what I deemed a reasonably efficient stab at attaining cult status.

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