For a film that saves little room for filler, Date Night is alarmingly light on laughs.
Steve Carell and Tina Fey play Phil and Claire Foster, an ordinary married couple who get a reality check when their apparently rock-solid best friends Brad and Haley (Mark Ruffalo and Kristen Wiig) announce their separation. Realising that their own relationship has been going through the motions for far too long, the Fosters decide to make amends by adding some extra spice to their weekly date night, trading their local steakhouse for diner at a swanky Manhattan restaurant.
Every table is fully booked, but Phil seizes the opportunity to salvage the evening by taking the reservation of a no-show couple, which backfires when a case of mistaken identity lands them in hot water with all the wrong people. On the lamb and fearing for their lives, the Fosters must get to the bottom of their adopted alias’ misdemeanours in order to clear their name and get back to their domestic routine.
In the past four years Fey and Carell have received seven Emmy Awards, seven Screen Actors guild Awards and four Golden Globes between them. In the hierarchy of US television, they are the unprecedented King and Queen of comedy, having risen through the ranks of Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show respectively before cementing their ascendancy with 30 Rock (Fey) and The Office (Carell).
You might be forgiven, then, for approaching Date Night with a level of expectancy befitting the film’s prominent central pairing. What a shame the result is so utterly wasteful of the talents of the aforementioned duo, wasting its breath, instead, on a clutch of tacked-on cameo appearances (most notably from James Franco and Mila Kunis) in a vain attempt to save face. When the only shred of salvation eventually arrives in the form of a perpetually shirtless Mark Wahlberg, you know something, somewhere, has gone desperately awry.
The problem is that the film banks entirely on the affability of its lead match-up, but if you don’t feel for the Fosters, then nothing else much matters. It’s not that Fey and Carell don’t make for a convincing onscreen couple; they simply overplay their ‘embarrassing parent’ shtick far too early and are left spitting cheap soundbites at each other in a genial, neverending bout of one-upmanship. Throw in Carell’s characteristic shout-every-line delivery and Fey’s faux-improv cynicism and you’re left with a getaway caper that is ineffectually flatfooted.
Disappointing, perhaps, but not entirely Fey and Carell’s fault. You see, the man behind this ponderous jaunt is Shawn Levy, a director whose track record in tarnishing the reputations of America’s comedy elite (The Pink Panther and Night at the Museum films are amongst his most recent exploits) is quite remarkable.
With a strong cast, economical runtime and undemanding premise, Date Night is ultimately testament to a filmmaker of mind-numbing mediocrity, but further proof, at least, that whether deadly serious or self-deprecating (at times here it's both), Mark Wahlberg simply can do no wrong.
Given their sitcom form Fey and Carell's first big-screen rendezvous is a relatively easy sell.
Yet another shouty, soundbite heavy 'comedy'.
How long has it been since Hollywood did funny well?