Teaming up Tina Fey and Steve Carell stars of 30 Rock and The Office is a tantalizing prospect for fans of NBC’s back-to-back Thursday night sitcoms. But their big-screen collaboration the action comedy Date Night yields surprisingly little of the comic synergy one would expect from such a potent one-two punch.
In fact it probably never could have — at least not with director Shawn Levy (The Pink Panther Night at the Museum) overseeing the action. Soon after Fey and Carell emerge on-screen playing a suburban married couple whose relationship has devolved into a dull domestic routine the mistake of their pairing becomes evident. Seeing them together serves only to heighten our recall of their TV work and we can’t help but pine for them as Liz Lemon and Michael Scott. But in Date Night they are stubbornly moored to their portrayals of Phil and Claire Foster two entirely normal people who get along perfectly well but who’ve grown a little bored with their daily lives.
Normal of course isn’t ever very funny (if it were Mormons would rule the stand-up circuit). As such the humor in Date Night is supposed to emanate from the extraordinary circumstances with which the Fosters are faced (a case of mistaken identity makes them the target of corrupt cops and the centerpiece of a criminal conspiracy) the desperate lengths they go to get out of trouble and the interesting personalities they meet along the way. None of which unfortunately director Levy or screenwriter Josh Klausner are equipped to provide. As a result two very funny actors are left to twist in the wind for nearly 90 minutes.
What the film cries out for most is a quality supporting player a Dwight Schrute or a Tracy Jordan to enliven the action and give stars Fey and Carell something — anything — to play against but no one in Date Night proves up to the task. Not the mirthless one-dimensional goons tailing the Fosters. Not the mobster played by Ray Liotta who looks more tired of his novelty Goodfellas shtick than we are. And most certainly not Mark Wahlberg whose comic routine in Date Night involves his face playing straight man to his pectorals.
The action is briefly energized by James Franco and Mila Kunis appearing together in a hilarious surprise cameo (oops!) as a feuding miscreant couple. Their comic spark instantly eclipses that of Fey and Carell yielding more laughs in a two-minute span than the two stars are able to conjure throughout the entirety of the film. Unfortunately for us they leave Date Night almost as quickly as they arrive taking their spark with them.
Though Garry Marshall hasn’t made a decent flick since 1990’s Pretty Woman he still apparently wields a not inconsiderable amount of clout in Hollywood. What else could explain the all-star ensemble of actors who gathered for Valentine’s Day? Among the major names found probing the turgid depths of the nearly 80-year-old director’s insipid rom-com are Julia Roberts Anne Hathaway Ashton Kutcher Jessica Alba Jamie Foxx Jessica Biel Taylor Lautner and various other prominent actors who either owe favors to Marshall or whose incriminating photos he holds in his possession.
A slice-of-life tale unfolding in Los Angeles over the course of a single Valentine’s Day the film chronicles the romantic adventures of a diverse cast of characters at various stages of relationships and encompassing virtually every conceivable demographic category. Their ages backgrounds and perspectives often dramatically differ but they each share one trait in common: Almost without exception they are all ceaselessly painfully disastrously unfunny.
Some temper their dishumor with a dose of the annoying like Kutcher whose dopey florist Marshall unwisely chose to anchor Valentine’s Day’s story around. Others add a dash of the preposterous like Roberts dressed in military fatigues in a laughable attempt to play a U.S. Army Captain on leave from the front. Still others add cloying sentiment to the mix like Bryce Robinson’s lovelorn 10-year-old whose grandparents played by Shirley MacLaine and Hector Elizondo ply him with nostalgic romantic tips pre-fabricated for maximum inter-generational cuteness. Whatever your preferred method of cinematic torture may be you’ll undoubtedly encounter it in this film.
In addition to challenging the pain threshold Valentine’s Day offers a test of endurance as well its story requiring over two hours to satisfy the narrative demands of its swollen cast. If you didn’t despise Hallmark’s ersatz holiday before you certainly will after enduring this Bataan Death March of rom-coms.
Skeeter Bronson (Adam Sandler) is a handyman at a hotel his father once owned. When Skeeter’s dad sold it to Mr. Nottingham (Richard Griffiths) it was with the proviso that Skeeter would one day become manager but unfortunately the job is given to Skeeter’s main nemesis Kendall (Guy Pearce). But Skeeter’s luck is about to change. While babysitting for his niece and nephew (Laura Ann Kesling and Jonathan Morgan Heit) Skeeter starts telling them bedtime stories that come to life the next day using characters from his real life including the kids and their mom’s best friend Jill (Keri Russell). Set in Medieval Times Ancient Greece the Old West -- and even outer space -- the stories usually show Skeeter triumphing over the bad guys like The Booger Monster and Sir Buttkiss. And beware of raining gum balls; it’s that kind of movie. Adam Sandler’s teaming with Disney is an inspired idea since his humor has always had a juvenile Jerry Lewis-style flavor -- even in his more adult-oriented comedies. Leaving the gross-out comedy behind this time Sandler proves he is a perfect fit for this kind of harmless rather broad PG-formula family flick that should prove to be loads of fun for the youngest audience members. He’s a riot in some of the get-ups he is forced to wear coming off best in the Ancient Greece sequence. Keri Russell is sweet and attractive as a foil for a lot of Sandler’s hijinks while Courteney Cox as Skeeter’s uptight sister is given virtually nothing to do in the mom role. The kids are cute in a Disney Channel kind of way but often seem a little precocious for their own good. Work colleagues are played rather one dimensionally by Pearce and Griffiths but they all seem to be having fun inhabiting various stereotypical characters in the stories. Teresa Palmer is lovely as the owner’s daughter and the innocent object of Skeeter’s affections. Director Adam Shankman (Hairspray) brings lots of color and verve to the film but knows what Sandler fans expect -- even in a kids comedy. Giving the film a necessary light touch he ably moves it along through the various set pieces and special effects sequences that are required to bring all these imaginative shenanigans to life. Similar in many ways to Ben Stiller’s Night at the Museum the production values of the bedtime stories at the film’s center don’t seem to be as elaborate or technically savvy as they might have been with a larger budget. Still the cast seems to be having a great time and it’s all in the name of some harmless fun that parents should feel safe taking their kids to this holiday season.