At The Movies: Date Night
(Long Island, N.Y.) Remember last week, when I reviewed the remake of Clash of the Titans and said that is was a solid action movie, but ultimately generic and forgettable? Well, Date Night, the new comedy starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey, pretty much evokes the same exact response. You'll get some good chuckles out of it, sure, but given the very tangible talents of its stars, Date Night was surely capable of so much more.
The plot is rather simple: Phil and Claire Foster (Carell and Fey) are your typical married couple whose relationship, burdened with bills, unfulfilling jobs, annoying kids, and a near-fanatical adherence to routine, has grown stale and comfortable. In other words, boring. They get a bit of a wake-up call when some of their friends break up for the very same reason, but Phil and Claire's idea to combat the ennui eroding their marriage isn't exactly ground-breaking: they simply change the restaurant they go to on their weekly "date night." However, this joint is a bit more swank and exclusive, and, unable to get a table, Phil evokes the name of a couple on the reservation list who have no-showed: the Tripplehorns. All seems good- excellent food, fine wine, opulent surroundings- until two thugs show up, mistake Phil and Claire for the Tripplehorns, drag them outside, and start demanding a stolen flash drive at gunpoint. The claims that they simply masqueraded at the Tripplehorns to get a table going unheeded, Phil and Claire manage to outwit and ditch the thugs, but when they go to the police with their story, things get worse instead of better. Soon, the Fosters are on the lam from both the law and the lawless in an attempt to clear their names. Of course, it turns out that this little dose of excitement is just what their relationship needed; naturally, once that wears off, they'll probably gravitate back to the same exact holding pattern as before, but why sully our tale with a dose of reality? That's not why we go to the movies, after all.
It's hard to say what exactly I do and don't like about Date Night. It certainly doesn't go out of its way to either be very funny or very bad; it's merely content with being competent at what it does. Yet Carell and Fey both possess an inherent charisma, likeability, and sense of comic timing, and their chemistry made the experience of watching Date Night far more palatable than if it was helmed by lesser actors. The pace of the film is fairly brisk as well, so it's not like you're squirming in your seat waiting for something to happen...it's just that nothing comes that really engages you or tries TOO hard to be funny. As I said in my opening paragraph, this is a film that's about chuckles, not laughs. And that's fine, if that's all you aspire to. After all, not every film can knock it out of the park (I try to avoid clichés in my writing whenever possible, that that's all that came to me), but I'd rather see a movie try to deliver more and fail than not even step up to the plate (arrggh! Another cliché!).
Date Night's status as simply a mediocre film is a shame, because Carell and Fey are not the only draws in terms of star power and talent: Mark Wahlberg (who's pretty funny in this, but mostly because he plays his character straight), Ray Liotta, James Franco, and Mila Kunis (among others) also headline. But while they all contribute something worthwhile, it still wasn't enough to take this flick to the next level. You could blame the rather pedestrian script for Date Night's issues, but more likely the blame falls squarely on the shoulders (another cliché!) of director Shawn Levy. After all, it's the director's job to translate the shooting script into something watchable, and he should have been able to tell something was off and made changes to inject life into this somewhat flaccid picture. As it is, it's an okay effort, but, at the risk of becoming repetitive, I must once again re-state the missed opportunity Date Night is. In a way I'm annoyed more so by this than I was by Clash of the Titans' failure to be compelling; after all, Clash was your typical special-effects driven "blockbuster" movie, and they almost always sacrifice brains in favor of mass-appeal. Comedies usually have smaller budgets and thus can afford to take risks and be different, so what's Date Night's excuse?
It's hard to write much more about Date Night. I mean, it's a good bet if you're looking to be entertained and that's what we go to the movies for, right? But with ticket prices rising to near-astronomical levels these days, movies are becoming less escapist entertainment and more of a luxury. For at least twelve bucks or more, do you want to merely be "amused" or "not bored?" If so, Date Night would certainly fit the bill, but I'd personally recommend taking a chance on another film currently playing in theaters: Dreamwork's animated feature, How to Train Your Dragon. Yes, it's being marketed to kids, but it's a great example of the animated genre with the heart, intelligence, and creativity that would appeal to the adult viewer as well. Think on it.
Oh, and if you do opt to see Date Night, there's the obligatory after-credits sequence to watch involving some alternate takes of a certain scene that's worth watching. It's nothing amazing, but you might as well squeeze every penny out of your twelve dollars, right?
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