“Hall Pass” Take Someone Else’s Wife, Please

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By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic

Even though much of the screenplay is warmed over same ole, same ole, and you know how it’s going to end, the Farrelly brothers’ “Hall Pass” is surprisingly more entertaining than one might estimate. The often-hilarious primer on marital malaise and the infidelity it may incur is also a lot raunchier than the coming attractions had led us to believe.

Plopping down a fantasy scenario in the midst of middle class respectability, the plot devilishly asks, how would you spend your freedom if suddenly issued a hall pass…a no questions asked reprieve from your marriage vows? On board to transfer the hypothetical to real world possibilities, Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis make an OK comedy team.

Reminding in their silly naiveté of Laurel and Hardy whenever they naughtily found themselves out of the grasp of their respective harridans, the boys iterate that adolescence inevitably resides just a thin layer beneath male maturity. Rick and Fred are snickerers, fellow travelers on a road they’ve never really understood, and probably never will.

Of course their wives, the custodians of wedded harmony, are much more sensible sorts. In fact, ‘tis they who suggest the hiatus from sworn fidelity when it appears that both hubbies have of late increased their female gawking quotient. The risky theory is, given enough rope, they’ll ultimately rediscover that being tied down isn’t so bad after all.

But then, in a tacitly implied twist, maybe that’s not the fairer sex’s true intention. Indelicate because of the double standard that still permeates our culture, it just might be that the gals are experiencing a powder-puff version of the seven-year itch. In fact, to, uh, give the ganders plenty of space, the ladies light out for a week’s vacation up at the Cape.

Hence, let the games begin, in of all places, Applebee’s. Asks Flats (J.B. Smoove), one of the vicarious thrill seekers who accompanies the recently freed stallions on their hopefully bawdy adventure, “Are you guys sure Applebee’s is the best place to meet hot horny women?”

“Hmm. You think maybe Olive Garden?” reflects Owen Wilson’s Rick. Regardless of whether or not these are product placements meant to affirm the family atmosphere of said restaurants, the point is made that he and Mr. Sudeikis’s Fred are rather clueless. Rubes in a brave new world, their every move is a comic misstep. Sometimes it works.

To supplement matters once the innocence angle wears thin, the Brothers Farrelly raise the ante and expand the plot to include various observations on marriage and the war between the sexes, including, but not limited to, the ramifications of random peccadilloes. And naturally, no bit of misbehavior is dangled without a lurking consequence.

Deadpan and nonplussed throughout his adventure in the wilds of permissiveness, Owen Wilson’s Rick is a sort of sleepwalking observer, as if his total being isn’t entirely involved in the dalliance. Whereas Fred, his cohort in potential adultery, is an odd bag of libidinal issues and personality quirks. Their synergy rises above the so-so script.

Essentially the morality play in three acts you expected, with a slight surprise here and an edgier than anticipated take there, it occurs that the Puritan influence still maintains a bastion in mainstream American art and ideals, if not in our actual lives. In this case, the tempted soul who the Devil tries to appropriate embodies a desire for fixed values.

While very thinly sketched, but giving the impression that he is a time-displaced flower child who took his share of acid trips, real estate broker Rick is more example than actual everyman. Yet his hip deviation from the previous generation’s man in the gray flannel suit makes this youngest Baby Boomer a workable representative of his peers.

The wives are analogously cast. Rick’s Maggie, played by Jenna Fischer, exudes sufficient apple pie centeredness. But we suspect Fred’s Grace, portrayed by Christina Applegate, mischievously veers from that ethos. The usual aggregate of supporting guy pals—one black, one fat, one Australian—serve as sounding board/kibitzers.

A minor case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, laughs abound despite the generally hackneyed ploy. Sure, there’s a contemporary spin as advertised. But this delve into the connubial conundrum cracks wise with jokes that comedians from cave man Oog to Chris Rock would feel equally at home telling.

The result is a sweet and sour, albeit uneven, bit of popular sociology, a contrast of the principled and the prurient. Hardly gourmet intellectualism, but tasty just the same, it serves up the philosophical equivalent of junk food. Thus” Hall Pass” demonstrates that you can teach a few funny lessons in human nature even if you aren’t a totally class act.

“Hall Pass,” rated R, is a New Line Cinema release directed by Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly and stars Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis and Jenna Fischer. Running time: 98 minutes

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