Date Night (20th Century Fox, PG-13)

Date Night is sort of a Disneyfied version of After Hours, meant to be hilarious and exciting but is merely tedious and predictable.

 

The summer arrived a bit early this year, and I say that not only because of the 80+ degree temperatures we’ve been having lately. An even surer sign is the opening of Date Night, a quintessential summer movie if ever there was one. Too bad it’s not a very good film even by the admittedly low standards of the genre.

Phil (Steve Carell) and Claire (Tina Fey) Foster are a well-off couple in suburban New Jersey—he’s a tax lawyer, she’s a real estate agent, they have two kids and live in a large and comfortable house—who feel something is missing in their beige lives of getting and spending. A couple close to them is getting divorced which they take as a wake-up call: time to rekindle the spark in their own marriage. So they decide to spice things up by spending their weekly date night in the big bad city of New York (doesn’t it figure that their only inspiration would involve spending more money?) and they’re clueless enough to show up at a trendy restaurant on a Friday night without reservations. The maitre d’ is predictably unimpressed by their tale of woe but when a couple with reservations fails to show up Phil and Claire decide to throw caution to the winds and take their table.

Bad idea. The couple whose place they took is mixed up in some kind of blackmail scheme and two dangerous-looking guys dressed in black show up to turn the screws on them. Just like that, our suburban couple is down the rabbit hole of New York City in a sort of Disneyfied version of After Hours which is meant to be hilarious and exciting but is mainly tedious and predictable. Director Shawn Levy keeps the pace frantic and uses CGI-augmented action sequences (shootouts, car chases) to try to generate excitement and keep you from noticing that the film is basically a series of strung-together set pieces of varying quality. This approach comes close to burying the occasionally funny or insightful moments (example: a touching dialogue about 45 minutes in when Phil and Claire discuss what is missing in their relationship) which are this film’s only saving grace.

There’s a looming gulf in Date Night between the quality of the actors and the phone-it-in script by Josh Klausner. When the film works it’s thanks to Fey and Carell’s comic timing (honed, let it be noted, on television) and on-screen chemistry as well as excellent characterizations in a number of secondary roles by, among others, Mark Wahlberg, Ray Liotta, Taraji P. Henson, Mila Kunis, and James Franco. Not only is Klausner’s script entirely derivative, it manages to incorporate a remarkable number of offensive stereotypes (snooty New Yorkers, an African-American cab driver whose character bears an uncomfortable resemblance to Mantan Moreland’s many roles) while using frantic action as a replacement for plot and character development.

I realize that much of humor is about group identification and wish fulfillment so if you identify with Phil and Claire and their provincial world-view (including consumerism and sex roles more appropriate to the 1950s) you will probably laugh a lot more frequently at Date Night than I did and may be willing to forgive its many absurdities and infelicities. And if you enjoy films which try to deliver the experience of a theme park ride then this may be just the thing to start your summer off right. But for me Date Night is just a sad waste—of my two hours as well as the time and efforts of a lot of talented actors. | Sarah Boslaugh

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