I missed the Amy Poehler-Tina Fey movie of some years ago, so I did not want to miss what promised to be another dream team of comedy talents in Date Night. Maybe the mixed reviews of both films should have warned me. Still, the idea of droll, down-to-earth comedians Steve Carrell and Tina Fey in an action-adventure farce seemed inspired. Well, they were likable and tried to bring some wit and energy to the movie. But the material let them and the audience down badly.
The movie began with some quick scenes at home and with friends meant to show how married life could come to feel boring and meaningless (friends suddenly announce their divorce and that they merely feel like "excellent roommates"). When accountant Carrell tries to break out of the mold with his real estate agent wife Fey on a night out of their New Jersey routines at a trendy Manhattan restaurant, the couple ends up taking another couple's reservation. The other couple is involved in blackmail and is being chased by thugs. Mistaking Carrell and Fey for the other couple, the thugs abduct them at gunpoint and chase them throughout the rest of the movie. Along the way, Carrell and Fey are caught up in loud car chases and quirky meetings and conversations with themselves and others, including big-name actors in cameos, such as a dim, shirtless, hunk security expert (Mark Wahlberg) and a mean mob boss (Ray Liotta). We learn that Fey does not "light up" for Carrell the way she does for the hunk because she is so tired taking care of everyone and everything else day in and day out and just wishes she had some time to herself (Fey has a nice line about wanting to enjoy a day that does not somehow depend on how someone else around her is doing). For his part, Carrell says he wants his wife to have more confidence in him and let him shoulder more home and family responsibilities. In a hasty, contrived, anticlimactic ending on a rooftop with everyone pointing guns at each other and the cliché of the police helicopter swooping in at the last minute, Carrell is made out to be the hero.
Parts of the dialogue and scenes with the divorcing friends (Mark Ruffalo and Kristen Wiig, good in the roles) and with Carrell and Fey having a heart-to-heart talk had some originality, silly fun, and emotional truth to them. Fey sometimes shot out an unexpectedly earthy line that was funny, and Carrell had some funny moments trying to act and talk tough, as did the two of them making up stories mocking other diners in the restaurants with them. The blackmailing couple was humorously offbeat in the fairly short scene in which they appear.
But this was far too little to carry a movie, even one this short. In fact, the material would not even compress well into a good Saturday Night Live skit. The Out-of-Towners, with Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn, is certainly not one of my favorite movies, but it is an insult to compare that fuller, livelier film to this one. The closest comparison to Date Night that I can think of in terms of my surprise and disappointment is Dana Carvey's disastrous 2002 film Master of Disguise.
Rarely have I seen a movie with as much on-camera talent turn out to be as skimpy and superficial as Date Night. The story was paper-thin. Never once did I laugh out loud. There were long stretches of dead time, filled with unfunny rambling (as when the couple are led in the park by thugs), with drawn-out and unoriginal cameos (especially by Liotta, who did not have a single funny line or action), and with noisy chase scenes (including a car chase that went on and on repetitively, endlessly trying to milk supposedly funny lines from a cab driver). Even the scene with Carrell and Fey on a stripper pole lost whatever novelty it had fast and came off as drawn-out and forced. The ending, in which Carrell supposedly proved himself to his wife, fell completely flat, without being the least bit clever, interesting, or believable. Much of the plot and gags felt recycled.
There were problems even with Fey and Carrell. Her flat detachment and his nerdy, gushing boyishness never came together to make them convincing as a seasoned working suburban couple or gave them much on-screen chemistry or rapport. The supporting characters of the thugs and police were weak, especially the all-knowing, glib policewoman who seemed on to the bad guys from the start, sapping any suspense. The bad guys, who included some corrupt cops and a sleazy political figure who hung out stoned in strip clubs while promising in public to clean up crime, are stock characters with nothing original or interesting about them. The same is true of the unfunny out-takes pasted onto the end credits, which, as another reviewer said, only suggest the cast had a lot more fun making the movie than the audience had watching it.
I wanted to like this movie as much as any of the breathlessly enthusiastic reviews on this site. But like other, better reviews, no matter how much I liked the stars and saw bits and pieces here and there to enjoy, there is no way to paper over how disappointing it was.
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