Saturday, April 24, 2010

Date Night

If movies have taught me anything, and, let’s be honest here, movies have taught me most things, it is that having a marriage and kids is a completely soul sucking endeavor. When you give up bachelor/bachelorette-hood, settle down, pop out a couple of obnoxious children who will make every moment of your life a waking nightmare, your life is apparently over, and you spend most of your time looking at internet porn and praying for death in your sleep. Like I needed another reason to never have children. Seriously, they’re loud and obnoxious, and somehow always sticky, and they grow up to be teens, which is even worse than when they’re small. Jesus. Shiver. Even though the media inundates us with evidence that it is awful to wed and breed, people still feel the need to do it. Good for them. Just stay away from me.

But I digress.

Anyway, in Date Night, Phil and Claire Foster (Steve Carell and Tina Fey) are trapped in just the sort of doldrums described above, sans internet porn. (At least what we see is pornless, but I’m pretty sure Phil has rubbed a few out to the cold blue light of his computer screen. He may be looking at Cindy Lauper, but it still counts.) Their marriage is stale. Their jobs are boring. The rut they are in is so f’n deep that it has even sucked in their weekly date night. Katy, the sitter (Leighton Meester), shows up automatically without being asked, they go to the same local steak house, order the same potato skins and salmon, and occasionally top the night off with mediocre, routine sex. But only sometimes, and only if Claire hasn’t put in her mouth guard yet. That appears to be a deal breaker.

When their friends, and fellow book club members, Brad and Haley (Mark Ruffalo and Kristen Wiig) announce their divorce, Phil and Claire are forced to examine their own bland marriage. In order to stave off the inevitable divorce, and the awkward alternating custody weekends it entails, they take date night on the road and into the city. They show up at the hot new restaurant in NYC, and, unable to get a table on Friday night, pretend to be another couple, one that didn’t show for their reservation. This leads to a tedious running joke. Apparently everyone they encounter for the rest of their lives is going to be appalled that they took someone else’s reservation. Gasp. How can they even live with themselves?

It turns out that the couple they are impersonating is involved in a blackmail scheme with the mob, and through a case of mistaken identity, two goons (Common and Jimmi Simpson) chase them all over town. Marky Mark turns up a couple of times in their attempts to extricate themselves from their predicament, as do James Franco, Mila Kunis, and Ray Liotta. Predictably, over the course of the night they rediscover their passion for each other, and fall in love all over again. Of course they do, everyone knows that the best time to work on your marital problems is whilst fleeing for your life from bloodthirsty gangsters and corrupt cops.

There are enough funny moments to make watching Date Night enjoyable for the most part, but overall, the comedy is rather benign, and entirely toothless. James Klausner’s script is derivative and uninspired, and you’re not going to get anything you haven’t heard many times before. It is full of running gags that don’t even work the first time, let alone the third or fourth. (What did I expect, this is the guy who penned the third and fourth installments of the Shrek franchise.)

The movie works best during the moments where it is obvious that Fey and Carell are riffing off of each other. They are both so funny and likeable that even the story they are mired in can’t entirely hold them back. These instances provide the best laughs, but the movie moves away from them all too quickly, and they are replaced by a rough approximation of the plot from Adventures in Babysitting. I wanted to see comedy, not lackluster chase scenes. Fey and Carell are criminally underutilized. It is like the filmmakers don’t want them do what they are best at.

There are a few high points, and it isn’t entirely devoid of entertainment, but Date Night isn’t something you should go out of your way to watch, and isn’t something I ever need to think about again (which has been happening a lot to me lately). The funniest moments in the entire film are the outtakes shown as the credits roll. I imagine the DVD release of this material will be worthwhile.

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