Ever since their 1998 modern classic “There’s Something About Mary,” writers-directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly have struggled to try to recapture lightning in a bottle and conjure up yet another raunchy comedy with a heart of gold.
They have come close a few times — 2003’s blissfully silly “Stuck on You,” starring Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear as the world’s most wide-eyed conjoined twins, remains widely under-appreciated, and 2005’s “Fever Pitch” was an appealing, PG-13-rated change of pace for the filmmakers. Yet most of their post-”Mary” work reeks of a certain kind of Hollywood desperation: The gags have become more deliberately “shocking,” even as the emotions feel increasingly manufactured.
Their latest effort, “Hall Pass,” starring Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis as a pair of married suburban men yearning for the freedom of youth, falls right in line with the likes of “Me, Myself and Irene” (2000), “Shallow Hal” (2001) and “The Heartbreak Kid” (2007). Any time a movie needs to resort to two sequences involving unexpected bowel moments for laughs, you know you’re in trouble.
Wilson plays Rick, perpetually horny after nearly 20 years of marriage to Maggie (Jenna Fischer). He and his best friend, Fred (Sudeikis), similarly frustrated in his marriage to Grace (Christina Applegate), can’t quite believe their luck when their wives give them a hall pass — a week off from marriage to sleep with other women. The wives are inspired by a psychologist friend (Joy Behar, awkward and miscast), who insists this strategy will save their relationships.
What follows is yet another slapdash bromance in which overgrown children must learn to finally become men (see also: “The Hangover,” “Wedding Crashers,” “I Love You, Man,” and too many other titles of late to count). Except this one is especially slapdash, with more than a dozen characters dropping in and out of the proceedings at will, and illogical chaos erupting at every turn.
While Sudeikis is a pleasant-enough second banana, Wilson remains a little too lackadaisical and glibly above-it-all to play a convincing suburban schlump.
The real disappointment is that the Farrelly brothers still have the capacity to push buttons and upend expectations; they serve up a side of subversion with their raunch.
One soon-to-be-infamous sequence in “Hall Pass” features Rick being administered medical attention by a naked African-American man, who rescues him from the hot tub at his gym (use your imagination). The Farrellys gleefully exploit stereotypes about race and homosexuality in a manner that is at first brazenly funny until it turns painfully uncomfortable.
It’s an all-too-brief reminder of the artistry behind the Farrellys’ brand of lowbrow comedy.
Too bad the rest of “Hall Pass” is just lurching, strained and forgettable.