Tina Fey and Steve Carell are currently starring on two of NBC's Thursday night comedies, 30 Rock and The Office, respectively. Both shows have won numerous awards and gain lots of press for its stars, yet neither would be called a movie star. Date Night, directed by Shawn Levy (whose films include Just Married (2003), Cheaper by the Dozen (2003) and Night at the Museum (2006) -- none of which I have seen), is the first collaboration for two of television's comedic geniuses. I have loved Tina Fey for a long time and her comedy is brilliant, but her prior films (Mean Girls (2004) and Baby Mama (2008)) have failed to turn her into a film star. Scott Feinberg, an entertainment writer for the L.A. Times, ranked Tina Fey tenth on his list of top ten Saturday Night Live cast members turned movie stars. I did not watch The Office at first because I found Steve Carell tried too hard to be funny. It was not until I saw his understated performance in Little Miss Sunshine (2006) that I began to enjoy him as a comedic actor. The most important factor for Date Night to be a success is the chemistry between the lead actors. Tina Fey and Steve Carell are believable as a boring married couple, but the film's screenplay fails them. Date Night stars out as a fun adventure, but by the third act the film turns into a cliched mess that is becomes a tiring bore.
Phil and Claire Foster (Carell and Fey) are happily married with two kids in New Jersey. Their idea of date night is their weekly date at the local steakhouse followed by a movie. Each is bored by the routine and upon hearing that their friends (Kristen Wiig and Mark Ruffalo) are divorcing they attempt to reignite the romance in their relationship. Phil decides to take Claire to a trendy restaurant in Manhattan and when they are unable to get a table without a reservation they take a reservation from the Tripplehorns, a couple that has failed to show up. During their meal they are approached by two men, Collins and Armstrong(Common and Jimmi Simpson, most known to me from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia). The men lead the fosters into the alley and question them at gunpoint about the location of a flash drive. Thinking on his feet Phil leads them to a boathouse in Central Park and after an unlikely escape they go to the police station and meet with Detective Arroyo (Taraji P. Henson). At the station they see Collins and Armstrong with police badges and make an escape. Claire takes Phil to see a former client, Holbrooke Grant (Mark Wahlberg), a security expert, in hopes of finding the Tripplehorns. Their search leads to finding Taste and Whippit (James Franco and Mila Kunis) who willingly hand over the flash drive. Date Night then turns into a less than satisfactory comedy that takes Phil and Claire on a car chase and a less than exciting trip to a strip club where the film ends on a too-forced conclusion.
Unfortunately Date Night is not sophisticated enough for the talents of Tina Fey and Steve Carell. It is nice to see him not have to force the comedy, as he sometimes does on The Office, but the writing is too simple and too cliched for these actors. 30 Rock may not be high class humour but it is exceptionally written and timed, thanks to Tina Fey and her team. Date Night would have befitted from Tina Fey's talents. Mean Girls may have seemed like just another teen comedy, but Tina Fey's screenplay made the film witty and satirical. Tina Fey and Steve Carell do have chemistry, though I believe that they did not kiss until the end of the film which turned into an awkward embrace on the lawn. Mark Wahlberg is too old to be eye candy and if this was a decade ago he could have gone an entire film shirtless. Kristin Wiig is too talented a comedian to be used so sparingly as Tina Fey's best friend, and the only other person on Earth who would have been less obvious in that role is Amy Poehler. Unfortunately, the film underused the talents of its actors and with a better screenplay and a more focused plot Date Night would have been a very enjoyable comedy.
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.
EDIT As I watch Goodfellas I am reminded that Ray Liotta appears in the film. It has to say something that I could not even remember his role, in the film's dismal third act, because the ending was such a mess!