Some things look like a can’t lose proposition on paper. Surely the teaming of TV superstars Steve Carell and Tina Fey in a big-screen comedy must have looked like a no-brainer to 20th Century-Fox. Unfortunately the film they financed, Date Night, turns out to be less than a sure thing. It wastes the talents of its two stars, saddling them with a pedestrian script riddled with clichés.
Carell and Fey are Phil and Claire Foster, two longtime marrieds who feel their relationship is going stale. Intent on shaking things up, they go out to a trendy restaurant and impulsively claim the reservation of the Tripplehorns when they fail to show up. A case of mistaken identity ensues, a la Hitchcock, and soon the Fosters are on the run from crooked cops and mobsters searching for an incriminating flash drive.
The film is at its most honest when it captures the mundane routine of married life and at its funniest when one of its many guest stars pop up. Mark Wahlberg, lampooning his own image, and James Franco and Mila Kunis, playing against type, generate the sort of laughs that Carell and Fey usually deliver. Instead, the two stars labor with the ridiculous situations the Fosters find themselves in and only succeed in making things worse. You know you’ve hit rock bottom when you resort to a ridiculous car chase to generate laughs.
Had Carell and Fey written the script, perhaps Date Night would have been funnier. Both are effective writers who know how to to write to their strengths. They would not have had their characters do a robot sex dance with a stripper pole. Instead, what we have is the right talent stuck in the wrong vehicle.