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Strong performances in an otherwise average to mediocre movie are often touted as that films saving grace, bringing gravitas and charm to material that is simply, limp. What you hear discussed far less is how comprehensively a hack script can drag down its talented lead actors. Steve Carell and Tina Fey battle with the screenplay for most of the running length; a tug of war that never ends.
Pretending Date Night would be void of laughs without Carell and Fey would a somewhat narcissistic claim, yet it most certainly would have been more tedious. Date Night is directed by Shawn Levy, who is no stranger to generating this laborious plot structure. His past projects, including the Night at the Museum franchise and The Pink Panther remake, have their guffaws, but any charm that can be wrung from the script is strangled by extended periods of mirthless slumber. This latest endeavor tips more towards the watchable side to be sure, but the balance remains uneven.
30 Rock meets The Office in Date Night, with two of television’s biggest stars gracing the big screen together for the first time. Phil (Carell) and Claire (Fey) Foster are happily married, but they’re stuck in a fatigued routine between work, the kids, and all the other challenges a marriage entails. Venturing into the city for one of their sporadic date nights, The Fosters fatefully nab a reservation from a no-show couple. Let the case of mistaken identity commence. Confused for “the Tripplehorns” they are persued by gun-toting thugs (who may not be who they initially seem) and enlist the help of a plethora of acquaintances to survive the night.
So, yes there are oodles of wacky characters that they get to meet along the way! Among Manhattan’s eclectic citizens we get a buff and shirtless Mark Wahlberg as a former client of Claire’s with more than a few gadgets at his disposal and James Franco and Mila Kunis as a spaced-out couple named Taste and Whippit (Whip it good!). Filling out the ensemble in smaller roles are as follows: Common, Kristen Wiig, Mark Ruffalo, William Fichtner, Taraji P. Henson, and Will i Am as himself. This collection of talented actors at least keeps the plot fluid and funny.
Unfortunately, wedged amongst the laughs are a number of action sequences. Although they are competently realized (as far as pointless action sequences go) they serve as little more then an abrupt halt to the comedy. One disastrous sequence finds The Fosters in a bizarre car chase which drags on for far too long in addition to being flat-out dumb. Maybe smarter than some gunfights and chase sequences, but you are left with the crippled younger brother of a Pineapple Express or Tropic Thunder. Date Night is mostly funny when it’s trying to be and surprise — isn’t when it isn’t.
One refreshing element present in Date Night is that the Fosters do not hate one another; they are not estranged, divorced, separated, or not forced to face life-affirming challenges through a life or death encounter (cough, Bounty Hunter). Here they are in love and just in need of a boost, so it is admirable to see less bickering and more teamwork again in a movie such as this. Here is to hoping Carrel and Fey team up yet again and next time perhaps wielding one of Fey’s screenplays. But hey, at least Date Night it isn’t in 3-D.
Directed by Sean Levy
Written by Josh Klausner
Starring: Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg
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Julian thought: “Date Night certainly isn’t a perfect movie: it has a pretty lackluster script and doesn’t exactly fit into the action/comedy genre as well as it should. Still, it works because of its cast, particularly the leading actors. Steve Carell and Tina Fey are exceptional as Phil and Claire Foster. Both of them really rise above what is written on the page and make the film hysterical. Taraji P. Henson, Ray Liotta, and Mark Wahlberg also provide some great work.” Rating: 7/10
Player Affinity Composite Rating: 6.5/10