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Date Night: If only they'd let Tina and Steve write the script

In the midst of the date night from hell, Claire (Tina Fey) and Phil (Steve Carell) make a frantic call for help.

2 out of 4 stars


Date Night

  • Directed by Shawn Levy
  • Written by Josh Klausner
  • Starring Tina Fey and Steve Carell
  • Classification: 14A

Tina Fey is really funny. Steve Carell is really funny. Date Night stars Tina Fey and Steve Carell. Ergo, Date Night must be really ... sorry, I wish it worked that way almost as much as the studios do. But no. All that starring talent isn't exactly wasted here; it's just diluted, watered down enough to demote "really funny" to sort of funny, now and then, here and there, some of the time. Hey, it's the movie biz.

This much can be said for the script: It dares to go where even Shakespeare feared to tread, venturing beyond the wedding that ends the typical comedy and plodding on into the boggy territory of happily-ever-after-land - deep into a good yet weary marriage. And this much can't be said for the script: Neither Tina nor Steve, both fine writers, had a hand in it. Alas, Josh Klausner did, a scribe who, as his press notes boast, "did additional screenplay work on Shrek the Third." Bravo, Mr. Klausner.

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Anyway, Tina and Steve play a self-described (more than once) "really boring couple from New Jersey." Supportive partners, they've got the demanding jobs, the two kids, the book club and a regularly scheduled "date night" that has come to seem like work too - even their getaways are routine. As for sex, their foreplay requires foreplay, mutually considerate chatter about whether to do it. After one such exchange, decidedly anti-climactic, Tina leans across the bed and politely offers, "I could rally." See, sort of funny, although, like all the picture's best lines, she probably ad-libbed it.

Unfortunately, the ad-libs are intermittent and, more unfortunately still, are obliged to hang off a plot. So, one evening, the boring couple seeks to spice up date night by driving into Manhattan to eat at a hot new restaurant. Without a reservation, they steal a latecomers' table, assuming their name and thus ushering in the ever-wacky Mistaken Identity yarn. Well, goodbye boredom, hello thuggish mobsters and crooked cops and bullets whizzing and cars careening. Apparently, for the old married duo, all this is new and interesting; Of course, for the old moviegoer, it's just a different brand of boredom.

No doubt, the night leads the twosome on quite the merry ride. It takes them to a Central Park pond to flee the bad guys in a very slow motorboat. It takes them to the West Village to do more fleeing in a very fast Audi, which locks bumpers with a very yellow cab, which prompts a very long attempt to find a laugh in this automotive mating. It takes them on repeated visits to an apartment that houses a consistently shirtless Mark Wahlberg - Tina seems to enjoy that. It takes them to a strip club and a required bout of pole dancing - Steve does not seem to enjoy that. Mainly, though, it takes director Shawn Levy (of Night at the Museum infamy) away from where he should be going, not tapping the talent at his disposal but, yes, diluting it.

Happily, once in a while, the plotted mania pauses for a reality check, whereupon Tina and Steve are freed to do some improvising again. Like when they're broaching the subject of marital infidelity, even of the fantasizing variety, and a dutiful wife, who is also a salaried worker, who is also a harried mother, comes clean about her unfaithfulness. "Yes," she confesses, "I sometimes fantasize about being alone." That's more than sort of funny, because it's more than sort of true.

Amid the forgettable big-budget shtick of Date Night, it's the little moments that stick. One is just a passing flicker, hardly registering on the screen, but it's my favourite, a tiny yet telling detail from the portrait of a lasting marriage. The man looks with genuine affection deep into the woman's eyes, and, noting his gaze, she runs a finger quickly over her cheek before asking, "Do I have something on my face?" Ah, so love endures.

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Film critic

Rick Groen is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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