25 April 2010

Movie Review: Date Night


Date Night
2010, 88mins, 15
Director: Shawn Levy
Writer: John Klausner
Cast includes: Tina Fey, Steve Carell, Mark Wahlberg, Ray Liotta, Common, Taraji P. Henson, James Franco, Mila Kunis

UK Release Date: 23rd April 2010

How did “Date Night” end up so unfunny? It has two hugely talented and popular leads, an array of likable supporting players and a decent premise, so why is the movie such a chore to endure? The answer can be found in director Shawn Levy; a journeyman filmmaker with a noxious pedigree. Levy remade both “Cheaper by the Dozen” and “The Pink Panther” to nothing but scorn, and then wasted a great cast in the box-office behemoth “Night at the Museum”. Levy might be a director capable of wringing cash out of audiences, but his work next to never solicits laughs, “Date Night” continuing this long standing trend. Despite Steve Carell and Tina Fey doing their best, the film is an exercise in how not to construct a mainstream Hollywood comedy. Hell, Levy might as well begin teaching seminars with that exact title.

Phil (Steve Carell) and Claire Foster (Tina Fey) are a bored married couple, their lives rotate around their mundane day jobs, their children and the one date night they get a week, which is always at the same place eating the same food. Following the divorce of some close friends (Kristen Wiig and Mark Ruffalo wasting their time); Phil decides to take Claire to a trendy seafood restaurant in the city. Predictably the restaurant is booked out; leaving the Fosters with no table, until Phil bravely steals a reservation made by a few no showers under the name Tripplehorn. Things start well, but when a few gun slinging heavies come looking for the Tripplehorns, they mistake the Fosters for their targets. Soon Phil and Claire are on the run, hunted for a USB pen they know nothing about. Deducing that the only way to stop the chaos is by tracking down the real Tripplehorns and getting the USB themselves, the Fosters turn to a military ex-client of Claire’s, Holbrooke (Mark Wahlberg) for help. However even with Holbrooke’s skills; the Fosters are going to need some serious luck if they want to survive the night.

“Date Night” is both badly directed and shoddily written, the film lacks any spark beyond what little its leads provide. Josh Klausner is the man wielding the pen behind “Date Night”, his only previous credit being the badly received “Shrek the Third”. It’s no surprise then that the gags are obvious and the story predictable, not that a clever narrative was ever really necessary to make “Date Night” work. The premise simply required some original jokes and half decent characterization, but Klausner’s screenplay is good for neither. Any smirks or giggles the movie induces (and they are few and far between) almost certainly derive from the improvisational hands of Carell and Fey, rendering Klausner’s contribution useless.

Shawn Levy also brings his usual mix of directorial ineptitude and lack of comic timing to the table, “Date Night” feels like a slog rather than the bouncy or frantic film audiences are looking for. Levy lets scenes continue for far too long, wasting perfectly good punch lines due to his inability to appropriately direct his actors or time his cuts. At least half the blame for the film’s low quality rests on Levy’s shoulders; the hack doesn’t even have the manners to make the property look good. “Date Night” has been shot on digital camera and looks atrociously low budget, the concept of cinematography having apparently been thrown out the window. Levy also fails to imbue the film with an involving emotional core, focusing far more rigorously on cringe inducing hi-jinks than marital strife. As a result audiences don’t ever feel involved with the picture or its characters, reducing it to a boring piece of inane drivel.

Carell and Fey are likable leads and indisputably excellent comics, but their characters in “Date Night” are terminally bland. The Fosters are never offensive personalities to be in the company of, but neither are they interesting, both performers left floundering due to the weak writing and lack of directorial competence. In fairness what little pleasure “Date Night” offers can be stemmed from their natural ability as clowns, Carell in particular is able to make the mundane seem passable from time to time. Mark Wahlberg is okay in a one joke performance as the shirtless Holbrooke, but the likes of William Fichtner, Ray Liotta and Taraji P. Henson are all laboured with ridiculously underwritten roles. Mila Kunis and James Franco manage to generate some mild chuckles as the actual Tripplehorns, but overall “Date Night” criminally wastes a fun cast. The film throws up a single perfunctory action scene (visible in the trailer) which is technically sound, but ultimately turns out to be as forgettable as the rest of the production.

“Date Night” is an extremely disappointing film, certainly one of 2010’s highest profile misfires to date. Following “Get Smart” and “Evan Almighty”, “Date Night” strongly indicates that Steve Carell needs a new agent. For Tina Fey this is her first genuine career misstep, hopefully teaching her to be wary of the Hollywood comedy system for the rest of her life. Shawn Levy should continue being thankful to whatever Genie he’s holding hostage, a man of his despicably awful reputation has no place working with such a strong cast of performers. “Date Night” itself is undeserving of whatever success should come its way, hopefully following its theatrical run the movie will fade from existence on DVD. This is one date you can afford to miss.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010


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