‘Date Night’ should have stayed home

Tina Fey and Steve Carell’s chemistry in Date Night isn’t quite enough to save the movie. | 20th Century Fox

The Fosters (Steve Carell and Tina Fey) are a married couple who are stuck in a rut. A spur of the moment decision moves their monotonous date night from suburban New Jersey to the Big Apple, and a stolen dinner reservation puts them directly in the cross hairs of a New York City crime boss.

Carell and Fey have a chemistry that makes their characters believable, which is the film’s only saving grace. But having two popular comedic actors in a comedy is not much of a calculated risk. Even on a bad day, Carell and Fey are bound to say something funny, which is best demonstrated during the film’s outtakes, especially the ones involving the pair posing as a couple of rude fashionistas trying to get back into a posh New York City restaurant.

For every scene that clicks, there is another one around the corner just waiting to unravel it all. The mistaken-identity plot line comes off as trite. There are also some running jokes in the film about stealing dinner reservations and Jeanne Tripplehorn that probably fall on deaf ears.

Despite the forced humor, much of the film’s best material seems to be dialogue that is ad-libbed rather than what was scripted.

The supporting cast seems odd. Mark Ruffalo has about four lines of dialogue and is never heard from again. Rapper Common is cast as a corrupt cop, but having rappers play cops became blasé ever since Ice-T joined the cast of Law and Order: SVU. It seems as though no one told Ray Liotta that he was in a comedy, and his time on screen looks more like screen-test footage for ‘Goodfellas 2.’ James Franco and Mila Kunis are a low-life couple whose on-screen bickering comes off as dimwitted and unnecessary, if anything else.

Then, there is Mark Wahlberg. His character is some sort of well-connected shirtless agent who deals with intelligence agencies around the globe and is completely out of place for the kind of movie Date Night is trying to be. But it gives Carell the chance to do a pretty good Fat Albert impression.

As much lukewarm praise as I give the film, it seems that director Shawn Levy has tapped into making lukewarm comedies starring popular comedic actors, and it has paid off. Steve Martin starred in his Pink Panther remake. Ben Stiller starred in both of the Levy-directed Night in the Museum films. Both films made money. But for Date Night, the chance for Carell and Fey’s pairing to become something quite memorable ends up being about as much fun as a blind date arranged by your grandmother.

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