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Hall Pass

It's hard to put a finger on exactly why Hall Pass doesn't work. Considering one of its lamer running gags, that's only appropriate. What should be a wild romp gross-out comedy has the gross, but it keeps undercutting itself by shying away from the wild. Don't even bother asking about the romping.

This latest from the Farrelly Brothers presents a middle-aged perspective on a young man's game. By that I mean the teen sex comedy.

Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis) have achieved varying levels of domestic bliss, married to sitcom dreamgirls Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate. After increasing levels of getting caught being boorish about sex and marriage, the two get "rewarded" by their wives offering them a "Hall Pass," one week free from their marriages to see if they can capture the alleged magic of their young, single days.

One of the consistent weaknesses of Farrelly films has been blurry plot logic, but their successes (Dumb and Dumber, There's Something About Mary) distracted us with almost surreal characters and set-ups. No such luck here, because the brothers want to be saying something. Of course, if you have half a brain, you know exactly where the message of this movie will go, and it's as awkwardly resolved as the idea of the hall pass is brought up – in blunt on-the-nose terms.

Joy Behar introduces the idea, her playing a best-selling self-help guru whose friendship with Fischer and Applegate never gets defined. Perhaps they met years ago at the Macguffin Women's Centre. At any rate, Behar disappears.

A similar fate befalls a coterie of male buddies, including fish out of water Stephen Merchant. The script barely has any interest in them, and though everyone reappears in a coda, it just makes the movie seem ragged at the edges.

With the exception of two young baristas played by Derek Waters and Nicky Whelan, few characters pay off. Somehow the Farrelly Brothers have lost the skill of making their gags pay off, too.

A few sharp shocked laughs come from "gotcha" gimmicks, but there's no build, no crafting of set-ups to bring jokes to fruition. Instead of following the rule of threes, the filmmakers repeat everything once, so characters get caught being stupid – embarrassingly so – instead of providing a good laugh.

The movie wants to laugh at men being past their time for such antics, and needing to evolve. Instead, you can call Hall Pass exhibit A in proving its own case. Not only are the Farrelly Brothers going through the motions of their younger selves, they've thrown their own star under the bus.

Maybe it seemed like a good thing to play Owen Wilson against type. It could have been funny to see the butterscotch stallion gelded. But Wilson has a persona that's a laid-back go with the flow thing, so it's not particularly convincing that he's unhappy in his marriage – because, by the way, he's never truly presented that way – and has a lesson he needs to learn. Of course he learns it anyway, and so does Fischer in a ridiculous turn of events capped by a festival of having and eating cake.

Making Wilson learn his lesson has worked in films before, such as Wedding Crashers and Cars, but in those, he has an effect on other characters, too. Lightning revives something in Doc Hudson and the denizens of Radiator Springs ; here, even though his wife has a weak epiphany, it's through no fault of his own.

As Wilson's wingman, Sudeikis throws everything he can into the mix, high energy and willing to stretch for embarrassment. Maybe it's an evolution in film history, but Sudeikis is playing the role in the teen sex comedy usually reserved for the heavyset crazy. He goes for it with gusto, and it's a shame he's not doing it in a funnier movie.

But then, everywhere you turn in this there's something just off, including in the actors' make-up. It may have been an attempt to make everybody seem like they're just regular people, but almost every actor looks vaguely sun-burned and washed out at the same time. Actresses like Fischer and Applegate already have a girl next door appeal; trying to make them look more normal is really overcompensating.

Maybe we're all just getting too old for this.

Derek McCaw

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