Kristen Carey, left, Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis star in "Hall… (Peter Iovino, New Line Cinema )
Maybe it's finally time for Peter and Bobby Farrelly, the filmmaking sibs who brought us the very salty treat of "There's Something About Mary," to give up on the raunch and give into the romance. After scoring big in 1998 with "Mary" — the zipper issue, the "hair gel" mix-up, the roving troubadours — their raw inventive edge has never been quite as sharp.
"Hall Pass," starring Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis, continues that creative slide into everyday crude (because watching a guy poop in a sand trap is neither clever nor funny). Caught in a tug-of-war between the filmmakers' cleaned up conventional romance à la 2005's "Fever Pitch" and the grosser stuff found in 2000's split personality spoof "Me, Myself & Irene," the film is a messed-up mix of both.
Wilson's Rick is a mostly happy guy, married with children. His biggest infraction these days is getting caught doing the occasional girl watching. Fred (Sudeikis) is his best friend, also married, also with the roving eye problem.
Their wives — Jenna Fischer's Maggie is paired with Rick, Christina Applegate's Grace with Fred — are fed up. But after a consulting their friend, relationship guru Dr. Lucy ("The View's" Joy Behar), instead of getting mad, the girls give the guys a "hall pass" from marriage — seven days to do what they please with whomever they please with no guilt or punishment in the offing.
To cheat or not to cheat, that is the question. But is it cheating if the wife approves in advance? Maybe that's the question. Regardless, after the pass is issued, the dilemma becomes trying to figure out where to find someone to seduce. The shape of things to come is laid out when Rick and Fred's contingent of envious buddies wonder whether Olive Garden or Applebee's has more chicks on the prowl.
While the guys try to remember how to be players, the girls head to the Cape and find a little action of their own.
Temptations do come along, and that is where the comedy should come alive. Mildly amusing or marginally offensive is about as good as it gets. For Rick, there's the baby sitter (Alexandra Daddario) he wants to avoid and the barista (Nicky Whelan) he might like to bed. For Fred, there are the leftovers. Then along comes trouble in the form of Richard Jenkins' playboy, their guide to the club scene where everything really gets "crazy" (A: Those are sarcastic air quotes, and B: I really hope this very fine actor got paid bookoo bucks to suffer the indignities, and the tan, required here).
Given the guys' tendency to get sidetracked by all-you-can-eat specials, it doesn't take much for them to veer off course. The wives are doing much better at the Cape. There's a minor league baseball team in town with some major talent. Flirtations ensue, soul-searching follows. Can epiphanies be far behind?
The screenplay by Pete Jones, Kevin Barnett and the brothers throws a lot of balls up in the air. The directors do better juggling some than others. Though Wilson and Sudeikis are the center of attention, the film is often more engaging when Fischer and Applegate's characters begin digging through their problems.
Meanwhile, Sudeikis, an "SNL" fixture, apparently drew the short straw. He's saddled with most of the dirty business of talking trashy.
Director of photography Matthew F. Leonetti, who last worked with the Farrellys on 2007's "The Heartbreak Kid," has given the film a warm and cozy look. It starts with the very charming scene that has Rick reading to his kids on a very comfy couch.
Comfy is exactly the vibe that Wilson gives off pretty much all the time. He has a self-deprecating appeal that tends to make even his quirkiest characters in the most forgettable films embraceable. For all the off-colors they wave, the Farrellys have a winning sentimental side too. It's time for them to get past their Peter Pan potty-mouth days.