An overworked husband and wife (Carell and Fey) decide to go out on the town to reinvigorate their relationship. One mishap involving a restaurant table, however, and they soon find themselves on the run from a New York crime boss...
Okay, here’s a challenge: close your eyes and picture Shawn Levy… Give up? Us too. It’s a curious fact that the director of three franchise-spawning mega-hits — Cheaper By The Dozen ($190 million), The Pink Panther ($159 million) and Night At The Museum ($575 million) — remains an enigma. Levy’s films have no leitmotifs, no signature flourishes. Rather, they’re a quagmire of bland: sludgy comedies whose laugh-counts largely depend on their stars’ improv skills.
With Date Night, he’s lucked out. Steve Carell and Tina Fey are famous for their NBC shows The Office and 30 Rock, but they have an easy chemistry that works just fine on the big screen. Both of them are plain darn likable — quips like, “I’m going to go home and look at my vagina in a handmirror” somehow sound wholesome coming from Fey’s lips. And on the whole their double-act comes off as game rather than desperate, even when they’re re-styling themselves as fashionistas to infiltrate a hellishly hip Manhattan restaurant.
Then again, for every scene that works, there’s a tumbleweed rolling around the corner. The rote mistaken-identity storyline sees Fey and Carell hunted by a crimelord played by Ray Liotta. Aside from the alarming sight of Liotta’s bloated face and the fact he seems unaware he’s in a comedy, the chase stuff is snoresville. True Lies bonded its husband and wife through nuclear carnage; the best action Levy can muster up is a too-long blacktop pursuit enlivened by Leon off Curb Your Enthusiasm yelling. Speaking of True Lies, might the most embarrassing scene in Date Night, in which the two stars are forced to pole-dance for a coked-up politico, be a misjudged homage?
Mark Wahlberg pops up in an extended toyboy cameo (his pecs get the movie’s biggest laughs), Mark Ruffalo and Kristen Wiig say about four words each, and there’s dimwit bickering between James Franco and Mila Kunis as a pair of lowlife lovers. What’s missing is rhythm. Date Night could have been snappy and unpredictable. Instead, this sags and lurches like a first date with someone who just wants to talk about their job.
Carell and Fey are good company and work hard, but this is still a formulaic tale that will look most at home on the back of an airplane seat. In other words, A Shawn Levy Film.