Tina Fey and Steve Carell are two of the funniest people on television, but translating that to the big screen has been problematic for both as far as leading roles go. Carell’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin takes advantage of his comic persona admirably, but stinkers like Evan Almighty and Dinner For Schmucks waste it just like Fey’s Baby Mama doesn’t do her talents justice.
Date Night can’t think of interesting ways to use either of them. Fey and Carell are at home playing genial suburbanites just as much as they would be exploring more outrageous personalities, but their welcome screen presence can’t make up for a film as relentlessly bland as this one. This production ran out of good ideas after casting finished, and director Shawn Levy’s homogenizing touch ensured that nothing more than mildly amusing even accidentally escaped onto the screen.
Carell and Fey star as Phil and Claire Foster, a pleasant couple looking to shake things up with a big night out on the town in New York City. Without a reservation, the two attempt to get a table at a trendy restaurant, and decide to steal a no-show’s reservation when they are brushed off.
Mistaken identity hijinks ensue, as the couple is assumed to be the Trippelhorns, a pair of no-good blackmailers mixed up in high-level government corruption. Soon, Phil and Claire’s innocent night out turns into a maelstrom of dirty cops, sleazy joints, and car chases.
It says a lot about Levy’s sense of humor that the film would’ve been about a hundred times better if it had simply been 90 minutes of Carell and Fey bantering while eating dinner on one of their “boring” dates that the film includes in the beginning. Date Night is overstuffed with action tropes that edge out all but a sliver of both actors’ comedic graces.
When Levy decides to go for the big laughs, as in a scene where Fey and Carell must impersonate strippers, it becomes hard to believe that studios are handing this guy any money at all. (The special features reveal him giving blow-by-blow instructions offscreen for this scene, and it’s an illuminating look into the direction of a guy whose ear for comedy couldn’t be tinnier.)
Levy tries to stack the deck, Apatow-style, with a host of one-off supporting players, but the characters of Mark Ruffalo, Kristen Wiig, James Franco, Mila Kunis, and Ray Liotta are written so flatly, any unfamiliar face would’ve been fine in their roles. Only Mark Wahlberg gets a chance to bring something to the table as a perpetually shirtless former client of Claire’s, and the effect is still pretty underwhelming.
Date Night might suffice for the easily entertained, but if you’re that easy of a sell, don’t even open the Blu-ray packaging. The lenticular cover is certainly diverting enough for your needs.
The Blu-ray Disc
Date Night is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The film looks slick and shiny, much in the similar vein of its fantasy version of New York City. Color saturation is fine and as the film spends much of its time on close-ups of faces, skin tones look even and consistent throughout. There aren’t any major flaws, but the film is too visually uninteresting to really wow the viewer in high def.
The 5.1 DTS-HD audio track is clean and precise, replicating the wide range of action-y sound effects nicely, with some decent heft on some of the more active scenes, such as the taxi cab car chase. Dialogue is clear through the front channel, even in more frenetic moments.
Extras include an extended cut of the film alongside the theatrical version. It runs about 10 minutes longer. Levy weighs in on an audio commentary that is strictly for the theatrical cut, and also waxes eloquently in a featurette modestly titled “Directing 301.” The word delusional seems a bit harsh, but there is some over-inflation here to be sure. Also giving a behind-the-scenes look is “Directing-Off Camera,” which was mentioned earlier in the review.
A small selection of deleted and extended scenes, a gag reel, and several fake PSAs aren’t any funnier than the stuff in the film, although a short “Disaster Dates” featurette gets some amusing stories from cast members. Also of interest are Fey and Carell’s early camera tests, which provided the fodder for some of the promotional material before a single take of the actual film.
Disc two of the film includes a digital copy of the extended version only.
The Bottom Line
Fans of Fey and Carell have much better options, even if it means re-watching 30 Rock or The Office DVDs for the 12th time. Fans of insipid comedy have found a good fit for their tastes.