Review in a Hurry: We all love Tina Fey and Steve Carell, don't we? So why doesn't Hollywood love them, too? At least enough to give them a script worthy of their talents? This halfassed (but star-studded) farce from hacktacular director Shawn Levy, in which the comics play harried marrieds on a mistaken-identity run from the mob, is marginally better than the likes of Evan Almighty and Get Smart. But not by much.
The Bigger Picture: It's commonplace nowadays to dis director Chris Columbus (Home Alone) for being a generic sentimentalist, but let it be said that he set the template for what Date Night is trying to do in his directorial debut, Adventures in Babysitting. Substantially mocked in its day, that movie has since become a classic for kids who grew up with it, and its escalating nuttiness as it strands a babysitter and kids in a bad part of town strikes the perfect balance between humor and real-life tension.
The babysitter and kids stay safe at home in Date Night. This time, it's the parents whose night on the town begins with a case of mistaken identity, and spirals further into a conspiracy ploy involving a mobster (Ray Liotta), the District Attorney (William Fichtner), some corrupt cops (Common and Jimmi Simpson), a lowlife junkie couple (James Franco and Mila Kunis), and an elite, ex-military something-or-other (Mark Wahlberg, flaunting his funky bunch of abs like it was 1989).
Let it be noted that there are some laughs in Date Night, many involving Carell yelling amusingly inept threats. Director Levy and screenwriter Josh Klausner (one of many Shrek sequel scribes) could have left well enough alone and gotten some credit, but the forced, unfunny "gag reel" over the end credits strongly implies that Fey and Carell were allowed to improvise, and that Levy ultimately used the only takes that weren't egregiously directionless and overdone.
The pacing and setups are way off. Each sequence ought to make our main characters progressively more hysterical, but not only do they not, they also suddenly have the characters doing drastically out-of-character things, like a particularly dangerous stunt on a moving car that Carell's character would seem in no way prepared to do.
Then there are some awfully strained "wacky" setups: Oh, look! A strip club! Cue bad attempts at pole dancing! Worse are the attempts to actually make a profound statement about love and marriage. As if.
That the leads manage to get off some good lines in spite of all this nonsense is a testament to them, but it only makes an audience member long for a movie that uses them—and the many supporting celebrity faces—correctly.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Wahlberg walks around shirtless the entire movie, and Franco keeps his wide-open unbuttoned. That'll undoubtedly win over a few fence-sitters.
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