It’s a time-tested formula: take some stars, sex, a bit of compassion and an absurd plot device, filter it through the mind of a 12-year-old boy, and you’ve got a Farrelly brothers picture. Bobby and Peter, creators of There’s Something About Mary , are back with Hall Pass . Depending on how you like your jokes, that’s mildly good or very bad news.

Rick (Owen Wilson) is a mostly content, completely domesticated husband, but his impulsively wandering eye has prompted his fed-up wife Maggie (Jenna Fischer) to take drastic measures. On the advice of her psychologist friend (a clearly uncomfortable Joy Behar), she gives him a “hall pass,” or a week off from marriage. Not to be outdone, Rick’s longtime buddy Fred (Jason Sudeikis) manages, through more dramatic means, to secure a pass from his wife, Grace (Christina Applegate).

The boys don’t quite know what to do with these hall passes at first, and the girls seem even less sure whether it was a good ideaa to grant them in the first place. But that’s no big deal, and the movie rushes to meet its promise of stale jokes and canned sentimentality.

If Hall Pass were funny — purely and consistently funny — we could overlook the fact that we’ve seen this before, from the Farrellys themselves and at least a dozen other filmmakers. If it were funny, it wouldn’t feel like Wilson’s wit and talent has again, and perhaps finally, been misunderstood and wasted. And likewise, it would have utilized more from Sudeikis than just his most annoying abilities.

But of course Hall Pass isn’t as funny as it needs to be, which is particularly bad because funny is all it needs to be. It has a bit of a heart (the obligatory, sickly sweet kind), but ultimately it is so utterly disposable and forgettable that even Richard Jenkins, as a busted up Keith Richards-esque womanizer named Coakley, isn’t able to brighten things up. Stephen Merchant (aka the brains behind Ricky Gervais) is underused and poorly written as well.

On a more positive note, notice this: Hall Pass is a low-grade sex comedy, but its characters are, for the most part, written pretty honestly. The boys’ obsession with sex is clearly described as a symptom of something larger, and not totally dismissed as the product of a hopelessly confounding masculine psyche. And the women are, well … present. Once the hall passes are issued, the wives don’t disappear. We actually get closer to them and learn they have some longings of their own outside the house and the daily routine. It isn’t much, but a brain-dead comedy featuring real, or at least semi-real people, is worth mentioning.

This kind of comedy quite simply isn’t for everyone. But if you’ve laughed at the Farrelly’s bodily-fluid based humor before and you think you can stomach it again, Hall Pass might be your best bet at the multiplex.

Grade: D


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