Hall Pass (Warner Bros., 2011)

Take a promising cast full of comedic talent, give them a perfectly humorous premise, and put the directors of There’s Something About Mary behind the cameras to film the results, and what do you have? Hall Pass, a.k.a. one of the more surprising critical misfires of 2011. Sure, it’s been awhile since the Farrelly brothers came anywhere near capturing the magic of Mary, but with Owen Wilson, Christina Applegate, Jason Sudeikis, and Jenna Fischer playing the leads, Hall Pass looked like it might be a return to form — so what happened? Is the movie really that bad, or have critics just given up on the Farrellys?

Synopsis: Best buddies Rick and Fred (Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis) have both been married for a long time. They love their wives, but, like some guys, just can’t help checking out every other woman who crosses their paths.

Fed up with this habitual rubber-necking, their wives (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate) take a bold approach to revitalize their marriages by granting their husbands a “hall pass”: one week of freedom to do whatever they want, no questions asked. Seven days to see exactly what it is out there they think they’re missing… or stop looking once and for all.

At first, it sounds like a dream come true for Rick and Fred. But they quickly discover that their expectations of the single life — and themselves — are completely and hilariously out of sync with reality.

Video: There’s nothing particularly cinematic about Hall Pass, but this 1080p transfer is crisp and clear — sometimes to the detriment of the cast, particularly poor Nicky Whelan, who’s supposed to represent the epitome of blonde smoking-hotness, but often just looks like a spackled mess. Still, the movie’s as bright and sunny as your typical Farrelly picture, and if seeing it on Blu-ray isn’t particularly necessary, well, neither will this transfer disappoint.

Audio: Hall Pass comes with a 5.1 DTS-HD soundtrack that, like the video transfer, is more than the movie needs, but despite its lack of dramatic range, it’s just as sharp as the picture; ambient noise stays where it belongs, with plenty of sonic space, and the dialogue is right up front. No complaints.

Special Features: As you’d probably expect, given the way Hall Pass didn’t exactly set the box office on fire, the Blu-ray doesn’t come with a wealth of extra content. You get the “enlarged edition” cut, which adds seven rather pointless minutes to the theatrical version, as well as a deleted scene (which is pretty funny) and a gag reel (which isn’t). BD-Live functionality is also built in, but it isn’t offering anything yet, and I’d be surprised if the studio ever bothered to add anything.

Bottom Line: Considering its cast and its directors’ storied past, Hall Pass is a confusing disappointment, but it isn’t all bad. Although the studio has persisted in trying to sell it as a zany sex comedy, it’s really a movie about the frustrations of marital compromise, and the way our nostalgia for our younger days often masks the truth about our memories — and ignores the ways we’ve changed, for better and for worse. It’s a really interesting premise for a comedy, and I thought Hall Pass definitely had its moments, but it’s nowhere near as funny as it should have been, or as insightful as it wants to be.

Part of the problem is that tonally, the movie is a bit of a mess. Maybe because everyone expects them to, the Farrellys inserted a number of gross-out gags, none of which really add much to the film; in fact, they way they bump up against the movie’s more thoughtful elements is rather jarring. It isn’t that the jokes aren’t funny, because a lot of them are — it’s that you end up feeling like the Farrellys couldn’t decide what kind of movie they wanted to make, so they ended up with a weird glob of cinematic spumoni in which characters disappear, plot strands randomly go slack, and characters come with weird quirks for no apparent reason. Still, things don’t really go off the rails until the third act, when the movie just sort of explodes in a frenzy of violence and panic before ending on a predictably sweet note.

It makes for an okay rental, and a passable time-waster if it pops up on your cable dial, but as a theatrical release, Hall Pass represents a lot of what’s wrong with Hollywood. It wasn’t worth seven or eight bucks on the big screen, and it isn’t worth a $20 investment on Blu-ray.


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