Directed by Shawn Levy
Tina Fey and Steve Carell have won their way into the collective heart of the TV-viewing world over the last several years by playing very annoying people who are, often pitifully and pathetically, revealed to be hopelessly sensitive and desperate (just like us!). Their idiosyncrasies and prejudices, no matter how awful or absurd, have become endearingly familiar and pleasantly predictable sticking points for self-referential humor. It's very disappointing, though not especially surprising, that this style of humor doesn't work in the 85-minute romantic action comedy Date Night, a Mr. & Mrs. Smith for geeks, a North by Northwest for suburban fortysomethings. This film's few funny scenes are the quietest exchanges between Fey and Carell—and Mark Wahlberg in the only successful supporting role—who look as uncomfortable as the characters they portray, trying on Bruce Willis-caliber zingers during ludicrous action sequences and role play farces.
The mad-cap cat-and-mouse games around Midtown and Lower Manhattan begin after Claire and Phil Foster (Fey and Carell) steal a table at a swank Tribeca restaurant on their semi-regular date night, a ritual meant to alleviate the pressures of work and parenthood that's become as much of a routine as the rest of their middle-class lives. Taking the no-show Tripplehorns' reservation causes a Hitchcockian case of mistaken identity, and brings around a pair of cops (Common and Jimmi Simpson) who moonlight as security for mob boss Ray Liotta and his spray-on tan. The Fosters quickly take up their absent aliases' cause, and go looking for the memory stick MacGuffin that everyone thinks they have. This leads to a fight in a Central Park boathouse, a dazed tour of Times Square, a car chase on the Lower East Side that ends in the East River, and an agonizingly unfunny finale in a Long Island City strip club. If only Fey and Carell had written their own material rather than trying to work with Josh Klausner's (Shrek the Third) atrocious script (don't stick around for the closing blooper reel, which is worse still). Criticizing the impressive cast is ultimately beside the point. Date Night's disappointments have more to do with the filmmakers' deficiency in virtually every possible respect—even Oscar-winning cinematographer Dean Semler can't make the ugly digital video not look like ugly digital video.
Fey and Carell are funniest in their dinner scenes, venting about the constraints of their careful lives and imagining stories for the couples eating around them. A less ludicrous attempt to mint a first couple of comedy, a sort of Hepburn-Tracy or Day-Hudson for the early 21st century, might just have been a montage of hilarious mealtime conversations. Outside of this context, the leads are all stuttering and shouting, their usual comic sensibilities—particularly Carell's ability to sustain moments of suspenseful awkwardness way past their breaking points—reduced to an irritating clamor. Wahlberg, as a Dirk Diggler-esque hunk and former client of Claire's who lounges shirtless in his West Village bunker, provides a much-needed cool-headed straightman as contrast to the freak-out-prone couple. Mila Kunis and James Franco, appearing briefly, frenetically, as the real Tripplehorns, are as disappointingly unfunny and pointlessly loud as most of their castmates. Police power dynamics and a dirty district attorney are gratuitously shoehorned into the cheesy, gap-filled plot, which is not only unintelligible, but never even makes us want to understand what is going on. Like the Fosters, we just can't wait to stumble and fumble our way home.
Opens April 9