They are, as she puts it, “just a boring married couple from New Jersey.” She first says it in a fit of agitation during one tense moment about midway through, then again, more calmly, and with some irony, as the action ebbs toward denouement. And of course there was evidence supporting her claim from the beginning: they have uninspired jobs (he’s a tax accountant, she’s in residential real estate), bedroom habits that are less than erotic (he wears a Breathe Right nasal strip, she a plastic mouth guard), and they order from a small, unchanging menu on their weekly night out (he’ll have the salmon and potato skins, she’ll have the same).
Some combination of chaos, hilarity and boredom ensue in Date Night, after Steve Carell and Tina Fey (UVA grad!) steal reservations at a fancy restaurant.
That’s the big Date Night idea. The more boring they are, the more they’ll want to spice up their marriage—and the readier they’ll be for that to backfire into a dangerous and wacky adventure of mistaken identity.
O.K., fine. Whatever it takes to build a movie around the pairing of Steve Carell and Tina Fey. The problem with them being boring, though, is that they’re Steve Carell and Tina Fey. Boring is not a thing that comes naturally to improv veterans who write and star in award-laden sitcoms. So what we have here is a comedy whose humor consists of two first-rate comedians asking us to humor them. However much disbelief we’ll have to suspend for their dangerous and wacky adventure, this humdrum comedy requires much more.
Dutifully, they press on. After friends who are facing divorce prompt them to reflect on their own marriage, they decide that they have to escape their deadening routine, so they make the fateful choice to steal someone else’s dinner reservation at a hip new Manhattan restaurant. And things do begin to change—soon they’re running for their lives, gathering evidence that boredom is relative.
Josh Klausner’s script offers the requisite action-comedy hoops to be jumped through, but there is also the additional obstacle of Shawn Levy’s halting direction. All the set pieces seem like nothing but set-up, and even the end-credits outtakes, in which the cast members crack each other up with improv variations on the movie’s running gags, come off as half-hearted and obligatory.
Similarly, much star power has been squandered here, with Taraji P. Henson, Ray Liotta, Mark Wahlberg, James Franco, Common, Mark Ruffalo, Kristen Wiig and Mila Kunis in small supporting roles. As a matter of fact, Wahlberg’s few minutes as a shirtless beefcake “security expert,” and the deluge of wild reactions he provokes in Carell and Fey, seem to contain the movie’s most efficient comedic moments. Might Date Night have worked better by chucking out the contrivance of its plot and just shuffling the central couple through a sketch-like series of marriage-testing vignettes?
In any case, thank goodness the well-paired leads are as charming as ever. They’re not really boring, even if the movie is.