In “Hall Pass,” a comedy about two dumb and dumber guys looking to relive misspent (and likely misremembered) youth, directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly recapture a bit of their own glory days.
If the brothers can’t muster the fresh, bold laughs they inspired with “There’s Something About Mary” 13 years ago, they come closer than they have since.
Pairing Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis (“Saturday Night Live”) as 40ish buddies buckling under the stagnation of marital contentment, “Hall Pass” builds from an absurd premise -- the guys are given a one-week free ride by their wives to indulge in temporary bachelorhood -- to conclude that there’s no place like home.
Home, for Wilson’s Rick, means three kids, a comfy suburban house, pleated khakis and a happy if thrill-free marriage to the lovely Maggie (Jenna Fischer). He and his goofy pal Fred (Sudeikis) are basically good, do-the-right-thing kind of guys, yet can’t help stealing a look at the buxom barista who serves their Splenda-sweetened iced coffee.
Acting on the recommendation of a friendly neighborhood pop psychologist (Joy Behar), Maggie and Fred’s wife Grace (Christina Applegate) gather the kids and head off for a beach week, instructing the boys to get things out of their systems.
As Maggie tells Grace, Rick and Fred are “domesticated house cats,” scratching for freedom but certain to freeze at the moment of escape.
With a makeshift entourage of equally spineless poker buddies, Rick and Fred cruise the local hotspots, starting with Applebee’s, in search of the carefree sexcapades barely remembered from their college days.
Some adventures are funnier than others: A drunken night at a local roadhouse scores laughs, while a pot-buzzed afternoon on the golf course misfires. But the Farrellys, with two or three misguided exceptions, aim for a gentler humor than the zipper-gripping guffaws of “Mary.”
When one of Fred’s near-conquests has a bathroom accident that recalls a similarly explosive moment in the Farrellys’ “Dumb and Dumber,” the scene seems better suited to an outtake reel. The Farrellys are on steadier ground with Rick’s sweet-natured infatuation with the sexy barista (charmingly played by Nicky Whelan).
The filmmakers have certainly expanded their scope of sympathy over the years to include wives: Maggie and Grace have adventures of their own before rediscovering their hearts’ true desires.
“Hall Pass,” from New Line Cinema, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **1/2
‘Gods and Men’
Stark and emotionally brutal, Xavier Beauvois’ “Of Gods and Men” is an unflinching, compassionate examination of faith and courage under strain.
Loosely based on the true story of seven Christian monks kidnapped and murdered by Islamist terrorists in 1990s Algeria, this French film is set in a small monastery in the mountains of an unnamed North African country.
The lives of the Christian monks who live there have long been peacefully interwoven into the surrounding Muslim community. Without too heavy a hand, Beauvois and screenwriter Etienne Comar make clear the commonalities between the two faiths.
That coexistence is doomed as radical Islamists gain political advantage in the country. When the slaughter of foreigners begins, the monks know their own days are numbered and must decide whether to stand their ground or flee.
Caroline Champetier’s camera work beautifully captures the mountain landscape, yet it’s most powerful during the heartrending close-ups in the film’s most remarkable scene.
On their last night together, the monks break their age-old custom of dining in silence by listening to a recording of “Swan Lake.” The rapture in their eyes is testament to beauty in an unspeakably cruel world.
“Of Gods and Men,” from Sony Pictures Classics, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: ****
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)