Thursday, April 22, 2010

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“Date Night” is about Phil (Steve Carell) and Claire (Tina Fey) Foster, a bored suburban couple whose romance has lost its spark, which tends to happen in any good relationship after two months. After the dissolution of their best friends’(Mark Ruffalo and Kristen Wiig) marriage, the Foster’s attempt to rejuvenate their marriage via a series of zany antics over a night on the town.

The antics get their start when corrupt cops (Common and Jimmi Simpson) mistake the Foster’s for a pair of inept criminals (James Franco and Mila Kunis), sending them on a chase through the city with lots of gunfire, felonies, and witty quips. Phil and Claire seek help from an eclectic bunch of movie stereotypes such as a hunky spy (Mark Wahlberg), a dedicated NYPD detective (Taraji P. Henson), and even an unwilling cabbie (J.B. Smoove) in their fight against a rather benign gangster (Ray Liotta) and a crooked D.A. (William Fichtner).

That’s a lot of parentheses, huh? Even the Foster’s hostess (Olivia Munn) and fellow dinner patrons (Will i Am) deserve them. All the star power doesn’t so much make me laugh or smile as it does bring to mind questions of what the catering must have looked like. What sort of food do you serve a set full of famous people? I’ll bet it was a nice arrangement.

I have time to think about these things because “Date Night” comes up bland and inoffensive in the humor department, a relationship with the audience similar to the protagonists’ marriage. The is script cleansed of material anyone other than the stodgiest Puritan would consider edgy or subversive, ensuring that if you’re roped into watching the film with your elderly grandmother, you might only have to pretend you’re not listening once or twice. It’s so familiar that even the Foster’s seem aware that they’re trapped in a PG-13 action/comedy, as their composure hardly takes a hit even in the face of certain death.

Carell and Fey, currently two of TV land’s most beloved figures, turn in workmanlike performances that utilize about half their total charm. They deliver the lines well, but it’s our familiarity with their small screen counterparts that’s being pitched, perhaps cynically so, seeing as cinema can’t effectively mimic the intimacy audiences develop with television characters, just as TV can’t touch film’s grandeur.

It’s perhaps thanks to its innocuous tone that “Date Night” works as well as it does, seeing as director Shawn Levy demonstrates little capacity for pacing or storytelling. Some sequences drag far past their expiration point, whereas seemingly important moments can be measured in fractions of a minute. But there’s comfort in the familiarity, the recycled jokes and situations that aim squarely at the lower middle and hit their target with admirable accuracy. It’s a double-edged sword; we’ve seen it all before, and as much as we want it to be a blast every time, it just ain’t happening. But hey, it won’t rock the boat, at least Phil discovers that he’s a talented stunt driver.

2 out of 5

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