By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 24, 2011; 3:01 PM
The Farrelly brothers, once the go-to guys for gross-out humor tempered by winning humanism, face a quandary: In the age of Judd Apatow and movies like "The Hangover," how can they keep their brand alive?
From the looks of "Hall Pass," the answer isn't to up their game. Haphazardly conceived, phlegmatically paced, lazily filmed and punctuated with gratuitous moments of sexual and scatological slapstick, "Hall Pass" finds Peter and Bobby Farrelly grasping for shock value at a time when shock possesses virtually no value at all.
Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis star as Rick and Fred, middle-aged friends who are unexpectedly given permission from their wives to cheat for a week, the idea being that they'll get their pre-male-menopausal longing out of their systems and come back more domesticated, if not wiser.
It's a premise already explored in "Curb Your Enthusiasm," and "Hall Pass" has all the earmarks of an idea cadged from prime-time TV then fluffed into pure nothingness by the magic that is Hollywood (or Atlanta, where "Hall Pass" was filmed). Wilson and Sudeikis do their best to project their natural warmth in roles that, but for a last-minute save in the third act, remain infantile and odious. Christina Applegate and "The Office's" Jenna Fischer play their long-suffering spouses, who wind up following their own pseudo-single bliss on Cape Cod while the boys make lame attempts at hook-ups at their local Applebee's.
It's as boring and plain-vanilla as the life Rick and Fred pretend to be escaping, even when the Farrellys drop an occasional bomb, such as a full-frontal close-up that manages to combine graphic excess with a tired racial stereotype; or later, when one of the guy's dates engages in projectile . . . well, it isn't vomiting.
Even ickier is the look of "Hall Pass," which often seems like it was filmed with a flashlight and a cardboard box, leaving most of the frame in grimy shadows. "Hall Pass" may not be pretty, but does it have to be so ugly?
R. At area theaters. Contains crude and sexual humor throughout, profanity, some graphic nudity and drug use. 98 minutes.