Date Night (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Date Night (2010)

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Andrew DISLIKEAt one point in Date Night the Fosters, Claire (Tina Fey) and Phil (Steve Carell), are in a particularly troubling situation.  A pair of corrupt cops in matching black suits have been stalking them throughout the city, and finally have the Fosters pinned down in an alleyway.  Some steam rises from the street as they fire their guns, and the Fosters are just barely able to speed away in their vehicle.

Apparently, this passes for comedy.  No one says anything or does anything particularly amusing during this or the other 85 silence inducing minutes of Date Night.  This is a criminal misuse of talent.

Where did this all go wrong?  Tin Fey is an incredibly smart comedienne, a great writer, and a wonderfully forceful personality.  The same goes for Mr. Carell, only giving up some points in personality forcefulness to a charming comic sincerity.  Both of them could have written a better movie, but decided to star in this one instead.

The set up for Date Night takes about 30 minutes, and feels like it belongs in an entirely different film.  Claire and Phil both have fairly boring jobs as a real estate agent and a tax consultant.  To break up the monotony and stress of their home lives they dump their kids on their teenage neighbor for a night once a week, and paint the town red.  It's not really that exciting, basically all they do is go and eat out at a restaurant then make fun of the other couples eating.

Given how recently I was writing about engendering sympathy or empathy for your characters, this is a stirring example of how to alienate your stars from the audience.  There's nothing quite like the comforting jolt of knowing that the folks you'll be spending time with for the next hour and a half might mock you the next time you sit down to eat.

This might be fine if not for two big problems.  The first is that neither of Claire or Phil are particularly funny people.  They make fun of everyone at the most basic, superficial level possible and then giggle at their cleverness.  Solution?  Josh Klausner should have written a funny script.  Or at the very least, someone else should have made the movie because the second problem chokes every frame of the film.  The director, Shawn Levy, has no concept of developing and maintaining any sort of consistent tone.

These opening minutes are delivered at the level of a drama, not the screwball comedy that it's supposed to be.  Hell, they even have Mark Ruffalo turn up with Kristen Wiig to act out some domestic issues for the Fosters.  Was this accidentally cast as a serious drama for a moment?  Because the director sure as hell shoots it like one.  It's all longing glances and long speeches about how great it is to be single again, while both Ruffalo and Wiig dial down their natural charm to try and give some legitimacy to their relationship problems.

This is not funny.  This isn't even affecting drama.  What's worse is that this little spat is what inspires the central plot of the film.  After witnessing their friends' break-up, the Fosters decide to have an extra special date night and head into the city.  After being treated poorly at a restaurant, they assume the identities of the Trippelhorns, who apparently stole something from the corrupt cops.  Before you can say "Genre twist", the films goes kablooey with gunshots and a series of increasingly unnecessary chase scenes.

Crazy chase scenes and general insanity are pretty par for the course with screwall comedy, but it's all played strangely straight most of the time.  Then when the movie dials down to try and make with the funny, the tone is so jarringly altered that it just seems like we're leaping from film to film without an anchor to tie everything down.

Then there's the stunt casting.  My God, it seems like every time the director thought we might be bored he decided to throw another recognizable face into the mix as a walk on character.  Given how bad the material is, this means that it happened a lot in Date Night.  What's worse is that, aside from one notable exception, no one does anything with the few moments they have onscreen.  Aside from the previously mentioned Ruffalo and Wiig; we get appearances from Ray Liotta (looking like a poor man's Eddie Izzard), Mark Wahlberg (using technology stolen from Minority Report), and many others.

The only one's to escape unscathed from this catastrophe are the real Trippelhorns, played by James Franco and Mila Kunis.  Once again, Ms. Kunis appears and the rest of the production brightens up considerably.  Mr. Franco also scores the only genuine laugh I had the entire film with his wannabe criminal.  They hurled themselves into these characters, didn't dial anything down, and I enjoyed it.  No schizophrenic tone shifts, bored acting, or bizarre continuity errors.  Just good old fashioned funny stuff.

Looking back over the cast, there is no reason that Date Night should have been nearly as bad as it is.  But, when the centerpiece of the film consists of police cars crashing into each other, that's strong evidence that a lack of imagination was in play the whole time.  Then the credits roll, and over the names we see a bunch of backstage footage showing just how much fun everyone had.

Sure would have been nice if some of that made it into the film.

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Date Night (2010)

Directed by Shawn Levy.
Written by Josh Klausner.
Starring Tina Fey, Steve Carell, and a plethora of unfortunate people.

Posted by Andrew

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