Date Night

Release Date: April 9, 2010

They're happy.

On the Big Board
Position Staff In Brief
38/190 Max Braden Carell and Fey are a nice match and provide some laughs, but the movie itself feels a little thrown together. Adventures in Babysitting is still the superior one-crazy-night movie.
42/123 David Mumpower Affable film overreaches too often, but it's comfortable in a way that reminds me of vanilla ice cream, the part of the Neopolitan I always left for everyone else.

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Once in a while, you can tell when two stars have been paired together in large part because their careers have intersected at a point where their commercial appeal makes it impossible not to imagine them together on screen. Hollywood is a metric-driven business like any other, and although they don’t like to admit it, studios are always looking not just for the next big thing, but also the last big thing. Someone’s always on the watch for the next Tracy and Hepburn, or another Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan – and why not? Past results do not always indicate future success when you’re trading stock, but when you’re making movies, the odds are at least a little better. Then again, modern consumers are far more cynical and sophisticated than they used to be. It’s a lot less common for audiences to just blithely follow a pretty face indefinitely, from one mediocre product to another. Make them sufficiently unhappy and in today’s always on, always connected world, poor word-of-mouth can torpedo a project in short order. A recent example would be The Bounty Hunter, where Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston were clearly paired together for very good reasons. The problem of course is that someone was hoping there would be 30 or 40 million more of those reasons as of this writing. Some things seem like a good idea on paper, but to borrow a well worn sports analogy, they don’t play the games on paper.

So on paper, it seems like a brilliant idea to pair Steve Carell and Tina Fey in Date Night. Carell is a talented writer and actor who first became familiar to audiences through his work on TV’s The Daily Show, playing a tongue-in-cheek parody of himself. Best suited for offbeat comedy, Carell’s trademark is the bumbling, but sweet hearted Everyman who’s almost impossible not to root for. The high visibility Carell currently enjoys is due in no small part to his recurring role as Michael Scott on NBC’s The Office, who is essentially a variation on Carell’s signature persona but with a suit and an inflated sense of self-worth. Tina Fey is a talented writer and actress who first became familiar to audiences through her work on TV’s Saturday Night Live, playing a tongue-in-cheek parody of herself. Best suited for offbeat comedy, Fey’s trademark is the bumbling, but sweet hearted Everywoman who’s almost impossible not to root for. The high visibility Fey currently enjoys is due in no small part to her recurring role as Liz Lemon on NBC’s 30 Rock, who is essentially a variation on her signature persona, but with far less self confidence. Don’t blink; what you just read is not a misprint, it is in fact what the entertainment business calls a "gold mine." Just look at NBC’s Thursday night listings; it’s no accident that 30 Rock and The Office air one right after the other. Both actors – and their shows - have similar strengths and appeal to similar audiences. Someone out there obviously feels that Steve Carell and Tina Fey were made for each other, and they might be right.

A "date night," for those not in the know, is what happens when a married couple finds that the spontaneity and passion have left their relationship. So, they set aside regular time to catch a movie, have dinner and consummate their marital obligations, just like clockwork. For some people this probably works, but for the handful of couples I know who have a "date night" circled on the calendar, someone always comes away disappointed. You’re either into someone or you’re not – and if you’re not it’s probably going to take more than a meal, a movie and a 30 minute fling to fix it. But they say if you’ve never tried to solve a problem you’ve already failed – so Claire and Phil Foster (Fey and Carell) continue to try. After many years of blandly content marriage, they share a full but routine life with each other and two typically precocious movie children. Yet, even their regularly scheduled date nights have become a routine bore. This is until one evening when they decide to shake things up and attend an especially posh new restaurant, where they soon find themselves the victims of mistaken identity. Suddenly swept into a madcap PG-13 whirlwind of adventure and intrigue, I am going to go ahead and assume that before the end of the movie, Claire and Phil re-discover what it was they saw in each other in the first place. I am also going to assume that this is a pretty fast paced film full of clever sight gags and wry one liners, as it clocks in at a mere 88 minutes and boasts a varied cast of comically adept stars including Mila Kunis, Mark Wahlberg and Ray Liotta (cast against type as an Italian heavy).

So much visual preparation goes into making films these days, it’s hard to imagine how two romantic leads can fail have chemistry together in any movie – but it happens. Add to that a heavy dose of uneven material and the resulting fiasco can pull a film out to sea like a rip tide. But Carell and Fey are old hands at playing the loveable underdog, and these are roles that should fit them both like an old bomber jacket. The only real question is whether or not the material gives them anything to work with. Nobody is immune to failure, and a starring vehicle made for two of television’s hottest commodities might be tempted to minimize risk to its stars with flat, obvious gags and lukewarm dialogue. But if Date Night is a success, the level of exposure Fey and Carrel have now might make them seem positively anonymous in comparison to what happens next. If not, then maybe they can make Date Night 2: The Double Date with Gerard and Jen. It does look like a good idea on paper, but – say it with me – that’s why they play the game. (Bruce Hall/BOP)

Vital statistics for Date Night
Main Cast Steve Carell, Tina Fey
Supporting Cast Mark Wahlberg, James Franco, Leighton Meester, Common, Taraji Henson, Kristen Wiig, Ray Liotta, Mila Kunis, Mark Ruffalo, William Fichtner, Olivia Munn
Director Shawn Levy
Screenwriter Josh Klausner
Distributor 20th Century Fox
Rating PG-13
Talent in red has entry in The Big Picture



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