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Case Number 19275: Small Claims Court

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Date Night

Fox // 2010 // 88 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // July 14th, 2010

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Editor's Note

Our review of Date Night (Blu-Ray), published August 23rd, 2010, is also available.

The Charge

One ordinary couple. One little white lie.

The Case

The reigning king and queen of sitcoms team up for the big screen—and the results are pretty marginal.

Phil (Steve Carell, The Office) and Claire (Tina Fey, 30 Rock) Foster are long-married, fairly content—and boring as old baby food. Their weekly Date Night consists of leaving the kids with a sitter and spending an hour at a family-style restaurant in their New Jersey hometown, eating potato skins and making small talk.

When they learn that their long-time friends are planning to divorce because, basically, they're tired of each other, Phil and Claire try to step it up a bit. Phil suggests that they drive into New York and eat at a hot new seafood place. Naturally, when they arrive without a reservation, they are turned away, but Phil, impulsively, grabs the reservation of another couple that no-shows.

What Phil and Claire don't realize, as they happily guzzle Chardonnay and munch crab fritters, is that the no-showers—the Tripplehorns—are actually a pair of thieves who've run afoul of a crime lord. Now, thanks to the purloined reservation, the bad guys think the Fosters are the Tripplehorns. Before you can say "Lobster Bib," Phil and Claire find themselves on the run from pretty much everyone in New York City who's packing heat.

It can be tough finding a vehicle for small-screen stars to transition to the big screen. If you're wondering, "How tough can it be?" just look to the three-plus decades of movies headlined by ex-Saturday Night Live players, Ray Romano's Welcome to Mooseport, films with one of the guys from Friends, or virtually anything starring Shelley Long.

Steve Carell successfully opened The 40-Year-Old Virgin, but that was a well-reviewed Judd Apatow production; Carell's follow-ups, Evan Almighty and Dan in Real Life, didn't fare as well. Tina Fey's attempt at big-screen gold, Baby Mama, went over pretty much like lead.

So when 20th Century Fox decided to team up this unquestionably talented but dubiously movie-marketable pair, the company decided not to hedge its bets. Rather than delivering a witty, sophisticated, adult comedy that would have played to the strengths of Carell and Fey, Fox dropped these two in the middle of an action comedy filled with mistaken identities, gun battles, and plenty of stunt work and chase sequences—the kind of thing that would appeal to younger audiences who might not be sold on the charms of the stars. In addition, they gave supporting and cameo roles to actors who appeal to virtually every demographic—James Franco (Milk), Ray Liotta (Goodfellas), Mila Kunis (That '70s Show), Mark Ruffalo (Zodiac), Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Leighton Meester (Gossip Girl), Kristen Wiig (Saturday Night Live), rapper-turned-actor Common (Terminator Salvation), and Mark Wahlberg, who goes back to his Marky-Mark roots by spending the entire film shirtless.

With all these ingredients, Date Night ends up being an awfully routine affair. Its "Who are the bad guys and what do they want" backdrop is too complicated by half and ultimately distracting, since it draws focus from the stars. Rather than showcasing the unique talents of Carell and Fey, Date Night is 88 minutes of gangbusters, like an adrenaline-tinged variation on The Out-of-Towners.

Occasionally, Director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum) lets his stars do their thing, and the film shines in these small moments—Carell's tax accountant trying to sell a Roth IRA to a young couple who are planning to blow their refund on a kite-boarding-and-sex vacation, or Fey's real estate agent keeping an even smile when a couple looking at a house that's gone from $1.3 million to $320,000 tells her they're going to wait to see if it will come down more. Here and there, the action stops so the two can have a moment. Sometimes, those moments are to service the script's conceit about the flat-lined state of their marriage; these scenes are rarely funny and just make the film seem longer. Other times, it's for a clever quip or reaction, the things Fey and Carell do best, but these moments are buried under so much random action, you feel like you're watching that kid from The Exorcist emerge from her possession and begging her mommy to "Make it stop!"

But Date Night does have a few things going for it besides the prodigiously talented if not always optimally used stars. The chase scenes are fine for what they are, their value amped up by the sheer awkwardness of Carel and Fey being part of them. Levy's vision of New York is about two decades off, but there's still some nice location shooting, and he uses The Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" for the credit sequence. Wahlberg does well as straight man, and the scene with Franco and Kunis is funny in the weird way the entire film should have been funny.

It's fun. Not thought-provoking, not memorable, not the one you'd want on your tombstone, but an amusing-enough watch, and it gives the world a little more Fey and Carell, which is certainly a good thing.

Fox sent a screener for review, which means I can only hope to be blindsided by the audio and visual quality on the finished disc. The screener does contain a handful of extras that I expect will make it to the "real" release. We get a few fairly funny alternate takes of scenes, with Fey and Carell ad libbing dialogue; a lengthy featurette with Levy on directing a night scene; a shorter featurette with Levy on how yelling "Cut" ends a scene; a gag reel; and some pretty funny faux-PSAs, with Fey and Carell driving home the importance of date nights; and a tutorial on digital copies, which makes me think such an animal might be included in the retail package.

The Verdict

Date Night did well enough at the box office that both Carell and Fey can both claim it as a success. Hopefully, this means they'll have a little more clout in choosing future projects better suited to their talents.

A fun, innocuous movie, but not the laugh-riot it should be.

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 78

Perp Profile

Studio: Fox
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Action
• Comedy
• Romance
• Romantic Comedies

Distinguishing Marks

• Alternate Scenes
• Featurettes
• Gag Reel
• PSAs
• Digital Copy Tutorial
• Trailer


• IMDb
• Official Website

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