Sunday, April 11, 2010

Movie with Abe: Date Night

Date Night
Directed by Shawn Levy
Released April 9, 2010

As posters for this film suggest, the big excitement behind it is the chance to unite NBC’s superstar actors Steve Carrell and Tina Fey in the same movie. The anchors of “The Office” and “30 Rock” team up in what starts as a chronicle of the boring lives of one married couple and ends up being a whacked adventure ride. It’s perhaps a bit too off-the-wall and unfettered for its own good, and might have worked better if it had allowed its stars to use their natural talents instead of forcing them into a hyperactive situation which relies on the moment to be funny instead of giving the actors free reign to do what they do best.

Instead of a more relaxed comedy scenario like each start has been in before, like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” for Carrell and “Baby Mama” for Tina Fey, the two stars are thrust into a sort of action-comedy without much action to speak of where they’re constantly on the run from forces out of their control and desperate to find a clever way to outsmart their pursuers while at the same time becoming closer and renewing the romance of their marriage. The plot is exactly the kind of inane story that belongs in this kind of movie, which isn’t really a compliment. It’s ripe with plenty of corruption, cheesy villains, implausible scenarios, and silliness to detract from its potential. Carrell and Fey both ham it up but it doesn’t quite work because each is alternately trying to play the straight man, and it’s somewhat off-balance as a result.

This is a film that should be funnier but seems held back by a desire to stay tame and safe. When Carrell’s Phil Foster finally spits out a four-letter word, it’s a time for joy and celebration, as if he’s been holding it back for the whole movie and is finally ready to release his inner badass. Director Shawn Levy’s resume includes family-friendly fare like “Night at the Museum” and “Cheaper by the Dozen,” and he seems ill-equipped to handle the “that’s what she said” level of humor regularly practiced by the actors in question. That’s not to say that both Carrell and Fey should be relegated to the roles they’re currently performing on television, but rather that they have a bright future that includes less limited options. To its credit, the film does get much funnier towards the end, and it it’s still an enjoyable experience. It didn’t need to be an R-rated romp, but maybe just a film that took a bit more advantage of its PG-13 rating.


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