Blu-ray Review: Hall Pass (2011)

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Creatively uninspired, utterly unlikable, and unbelievably unfunny, Hall Pass may be the weakest link in the Farrelly Brothers directorial filmography but as it turns out it could’ve been worse.

If the guys had gone with their first rewrite of Stolen Summer writer/director Pete Jones’s original spec script, which they tackled alongside Kevin Barnett and Jones, Hall Pass would’ve been even more sexist than it was in its 2011 blink-and-you-missed-it theatrical release.

As Peter Farrelly admitted to AV Club interviewer Nathan Rabin, upon reading the first Pass draft, his own wife told him she “f***ing hate[d]” it.

While at least they followed her advice to give the film’s leading ladies something to do besides sitting “at home bit[ing] their fingernails wondering” what their bored husbands were doing after being given a hall pass in the form of “a week off from marriage,” unfortunately lady Farrelly’s female intuition was lost on the quartet of male writers overall.

Though it’s nowhere near as overwhelmingly misogynistic and mean-spirited as their tragically out-of-touch Heartbreak Kid remake, in terms of laughter alone, Pass marks a considerable step backwards as in all honesty, Kid’s supporting players managed to inspire an occasional chuckle whereas Hall passes by without generating a grin.

Needless to say, I’d love to know what Peter’s wife thought of the final cut since – despite Hall’s humor-killing attempt to plead both sides of the case for and against marital monogamy – when you consider the contents, characterizations and context of the two Farrelly films back-to-back, you can’t help but find there’s something fairly alarming about their views of women not named Mary.

To be fair of course, Farrelly’s men have often been of the Dumb and Dumber variety. Yet as in Hall’s raunchy spin on a sitcom-like plot, the interchangeable married-yet-bored cardboard characters played by otherwise likable stars Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis still take selfish center stage, dominating and driving the film’s disastrous plot.

As two hornball hubbies whose bobbleheads are constantly in motion, Wilson’s Rick and Sudeikis’s Fred check out every woman that walks by for a bit of mental cheating later on, despite being married to the likes of Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate.

“Doesn’t it ever both you that all of our wives’ dreams come true and ours don’t?” Fred whines to Rick, citing that when their wives were girls they played house, had easy bake ovens and dolls and they granted their wish with a home, kitchen and (in Rick’s case) three babies of her own.

Initially Fischer overhears the two husbands on a baby monitor during poker night hypothetically betting how much they’d pay for a week of extracurricular no-strings sex with a perfect woman without getting busted.

But after the guys get caught on the candid camera of their yuppie neighbors’ video monitoring system loudly and lewdly letting loose on the lady of the house, a fed-up Fischer gives Rick a week to swing out-of-sight as opposed to staring honeys down before her very eyes.

Although Fischer and Applegate follow suit, spending a week at the Cape fending off the flirtatious attention of minor league ballplayers thanks to Mrs. Farrelly’s reminder that if a husband can be free then so can his wife (which should tell you something about the Farrelly chauvinism), the women are shoved to the sidelines in favor of the male-centric plot though nothing holds our attention.

Essentially a one-joke premise that’s repeated ad nauseam by stretching the running time to roughly 105 minutes, through half-assed trial and embarrassing failure the men learn the very basic lesson to be careful what you wish for since you just might not be able to handle it.

Having been out of the game so long, the guys’ first destination for hook-ups is their neighborhood Applebee’s and it all goes downhill from there with recycled subplots involving everything from pot brownies to a Mrs. Robinson and a Lolita to pass the time, making it painfully clear that even though the guys talk a good game, they don’t realize that – in their everyday lives – they’ve already won.

Unfortunately, despite being the object of the men’s ogling and affection, it’s the women in Pass that lose all around. From sneezing their way into a scatological fit that’s more of a sickening gag than situational joke (unlike Mary’s “hair gel”) to getting into a car accident after having a one-night stand in an unfunny punishment flipside to the male characters’ Hangover modeled hijinks, under the Farrelly Brothers direction, women get attention for all the wrong reasons.

A confusing and crude contrivance, Hall Pass predictably ends on a pro-marriage stance, possibly because it didn’t know what else to do with the two unlikable men except just send them back to the women who are too good for them even if you’re not quite sure the filmmakers share that sentiment.

While all it takes is a date with Google search to remind you that the laugh-free comedy could’ve been worse without Mrs. Farrelly’s input -- with so much talent involved it should’ve been so much better than the ugly film we see in WB’s technically beautiful Blu-ray/DVD and Digital Copy release.

Yet at least we can agree that with The Heartbreak Kid in mind, better Hall Pass than a Farrelly remake of The Seven Year Itch since there’s no telling what the Brothers would do with the idea of a woman – even one originally played by a Marilyn – standing over a subway grate.

Text ©2011, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. 
FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.


DVD Review: A Thousand Clowns (1965)

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Even though he managed to craft an Oscar nominated Best Picture contender right out of the gate, the 1965 release of A Thousand Clowns marked the first and only feature motion picture helmed by Broadway director Fred Coe.

Dubbed “the patron saint of writers,” Coe was perhaps most famous for his taste -- discovering, launching and/or skyrocketing the careers of some of the most notable playwrights in twentieth century American theater including Horton Foote, Paddy Chayefsky and Herb Gardner.

In an extraordinary feat that actor Jason Robards considered nothing short of “a miracle,” Gardner penned Clowns’s humorous but heartfelt tale of midlife nonconformity when he was in his early twenties, drawing inspiration for the character that Robards originated onstage in ‘62 on his friend Jean Shepherd (who later turned his own life into A Christmas Story).

To post-Beat Generation, pre-hippie eccentric iconoclast Murray Burns (Jason Robards), there’s nothing more horrible than the sight of men and women– smartly dressed in business appropriate skirts and gray flannel suits – going to work, pounding the pavement of the concrete jungle from nine to five in New York City.

Having taken advantage of unemployment insurance benefits for five months since walking away from his day job writing jokes for a children’s TV show, Murray is forced to confront his fears and face responsibility as a guardian when his slacker existence catches up to him in the form of social workers looking to take away his best friend, roommate and precocious twelve-year old nephew, Nick (Barry Gordon).

Admittedly at times -- and similar to some of the collected plays of Neil Simon -- Gardner’s highly verbal characters can be guilty of sounding a bit too much alike. And in this case, the intelligence of the youngest character can be as much of a refreshing blessing as it is an annoying curse since even kids who go to the “genius school for big brains” should still occasionally speak like twelve-year olds.

However, when the banter is this good, we can’t help but look past the delivery in Coe’s film that boasts a song written by a “big brain” actress with an IQ of 172 who's famous for playing dumb as Judy Holliday provided the lyrics for the titular theme song in her last career credit before succumbing to cancer.

With the exception of Sandy Dennis who passed on the picture despite winning a Tony for her part – paving the way for newcomer Barbara Harris to make her Golden Globe nominated film debut – most of the original Broadway cast revisited their roles as Gene Saks and William Daniels reunited with Robards and Gordon along with the behind-the-scenes team of screenwriter Gardner and filmmaker Coe.

Although Ralph Rosenblum would go on to do great things influencing a generation of cutting-edge cutters in his ‘60s and ‘70s collaboration with Woody Allen -- brilliantly editing the Woodman’s postmodern Best Picture winning romantic comedy Annie Hall along with upping the artistry of Bananas, Sleepers, Love and Death and Interiors -- his work on Clowns is far too self-consciously cinematic.

Attempting to break up the at times overly stagey production feel of the dialogue-driven script by literally reminding us that instead of being a play recorded on film, A Thousand Clowns is a movie, damn it (!), Rosenblum uses every tool at his disposal to grab our attention to chaotic effect.

Channeling the techniques of the French New Wave with no rhyme or reason except perhaps out of sheer boredom from being given one main bedroom location to look at, Rosenblum pulls us from one place to the next with choppy jump-cuts, clunky sound-bridges and chaotic transitions.

A timeless portrait of a man who doesn’t want to be one of a thousand clowns despite knowing deep down that we’re all in this human race together -- regardless of the film’s shortcomings as a cross between an editing experiment and a static play, we remain utterly charmed from start to finish, amazed it was conceived by someone so wise (and so young).

Text ©2011, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.