Men and women, as every chick flick and buddy-slob comedy will tell you, don’t just come from different galaxies—they’re locked in a battle for supremacy. But “Hall Pass,” a light comedy of horny marital woe, makes a novel statement about the sex wars: It says that they’re essentially over. And that the guys—in case there was any lingering suspense about it—have lost.
Rick (Owen Wilson), a real estate agent who dresses in dweebish plaid shirts, and Fred (Jason Sudeikis), a life-insurance salesman as genial and square as Howdy Doody, are suburban schlubs devoted to their wives and family. When Rick isn’t taking out the trash or disciplining his children with textbook New Dad sensitivity, he, like Fred, has one topic on the brain: all the sexy, gorgeous women who, as faithful and loving husbands, they will never, ever get to sleep with.
All of which makes them sound like the most common and boorish of male movie characters. Except for one thing: These two, though they spend their hours fantasizing about straying, would never dream of actually doing it. They’re like neutered dogs who carry their own leashes. When it comes to satisfying their libidos, they’re whipped, defeated—by the demands of family life (who has time for sex when you’re trying to get the kids to bed?) or just by their loyalty. The raunchy chatter spills out of them, and some of it is funny, but mostly because it’s so pathetic.
“Hall Pass” presents these men as a new archetype: the frustrated middle-aged husband as randy adolescent virgin. Wilson, geeked out in super-square hair, knows how to use his gentleness to turn himself into a figure of soft desperation. And “Saturday Night Live’s” Sudeikis, in his first major movie role, has an agreeably dorky, bootlicking officiousness. (Fred thinks that he’s scored a victory if he figures out how to look at a woman’s ass without his wife seeing him.) They are so domesticated, the joke is they don’t even know their pent-up sexual frustration is driving them nuts.
It takes their wives, Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Grace (Christina Applegate), to figure that out, and to propose a solution: They will give their husbands a “hall pass,” a week off from marriage during which the two will be allowed to sow their wild oats—and, in theory, purge all those demons of roving-eyed desire.
Still, if Rick and Fred’s dilemma is the film’s amusing appetizer, the main course ought to be what they actually do when they’re let loose. And the punchline is: Out on their own, Rick and Fred are such hapless, inept womanizers that even when “freed,” they’re still trapped in their overgrown-teenage heads. When they do try to hook up, they’re so clueless about how seduction now works (“R-O-C-K in the USA!” says Rick, thinking that he’s just said something cool, which makes you want to dive under your seat) that women look at them as if they were another species.
Grade: ★★★ out of 5 stars
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