Steve Carell and Tina Fey have been lynchpins in NBC's comedy roster for years. As Michael Scott, Carell leads The Office into its seventh season, while Fey takes 30 Rock into its fifth season and was a regular on Saturday Night Live. With this duo headlining most Thursday nights on network TV, you'd think they'd have worked on other projects before, but Date Night is the first film in which they've shared screen time.
Written by Josh Klausner (Shrek the Third) and directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum), Carell and Fey are Phil and Claire Foster, a longtime married couple with children who live in New Jersey. From time to time, they go out on "dates," which are designed to inject some life into their marriage but also to provide some alone time as a couple and in a sense, help reacquaint themselves with one another because their days are lost in work and the children. One particular date night--shortly after a friend explains how she decided to separate from her husband--Claire feels adventurous and dresses up, which encourages Phil to take her into New York City and to an upscale New York restaurant, where they boldly take another, apparently absent, couple's reservation. It's there where things take a turn.
While dining, Phil and Claire are approached by two strangers who order them to leave. They comply, thinking their reservation ruse has been discovered, but the men take them into the alley and demand the return of sensitive information, all the while calling Phil and Claire "the Tripplehorn's." Phil and Claire manage to avoid their captors and we spend the rest of the film watching them try to find the underlying cause of the mystery. They get some help along the way from Holbrooke Grant (Max Payne), one of many familiar faces in the film who appear in nondescript, almost even anonymous roles.
However, seeing so many names in the film reminded me of the film's deficiencies, particularly the story; it seems to attempt several areas but never stops on something long enough to be effective. The film can't decide if it wants to be a full-blown action comedy or imitate a True Lies mix of action punctuated with the occasional joke. During the second act, the small conflict between Phil and Claire is one that a bolder movie might have flushed out a little more and made into a decent subplot. However, over the course of the film, you get the sense that the film suffers from a general sense of laziness. Whether it's the stunt sequences that aren't very stunty or the performances that are lax, Date Night is an interesting premise that appears to have been squandered by the filmmakers and cast.
Even the chemistry between Carell and Fey, one that would appear to be as close to a "no brainer" in this movie as there could be, it also feels phoned in and hardly authentic. They have their individual moments, however, as Levy's commentary mentions, there is a fair amount of improvisation in the film. Maybe Steve and Tina haven't gotten a chance to stretch out those legs as much as they'd like, because there aren't many laughs between the two and in the film in general. Perhaps that's the peril of the television performer nowadays. For as disappointing as Date Night was, at least I like their day jobs.
Date Night is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Considering the film was shot with the Panavision Genesis digital camera, I'd expect a little bit of image softness to occur, and you can really see that in the early sequences when the family is together or even when they're at the New York restaurant, with a small red push in the flesh tones. Once the action moves out into the evening, the blacks really stand out well and the image becomes a little clearer. Not the best viewing, but certainly watchable.
Once things get out into the streets and become all action movie-like, the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track brings the goods. There's ample use of the subwoofer to fill out the low end, dialogue remains balanced in the center channel throughout the production and there's evidence of speaker panning during the car chase sequence. It delivers when it has to, and for a standard definition disc, is a good sonic experience.
Levy starts things off with a commentary that if nothing else is active. He talks of the origins of the idea and how he shot in New York and Los Angeles and touches on more technical aspects of filming, such as shooting and lighting styles. He sporadically breaks down various scenes. He also performs the mandatory gushing about the quality and level of performance of the film's stars and points out those who have appeared in his other films. It's not too revealing but he is passionate for the work, so there's that.
Next up is "Directing 301" (21:47), which includes more of Levy, but this time, shows him on set as he shoots a few night scenes in New York. He also introduces some members of the crew and their roles in the production, and you see him walk Fey and Carell through rehearsals and the real stuff. It's not a bad extra, though it feels symbolic of the overall nature of the film in that it "hits and runs" from several areas. The gag reel (5:49) has some actual laughs in it, while the PSAs (3, 2:02) also garner a chuckle or two. "Alt City" (1:48) shows the stars using different lines in a scene, while "Directing Off Camera" (3:46) shows us Levy's pre-rehearsal process with the kids and grown-ups before he yells 'action!' Trailers for this film and several other Fox movies and television shows are also next. A note: the film's 88-minute theatrical cut and 101-minute extended cut are on either side of this flipper disc.
Date Night could have been so much more. It could have been memorable, hilarious, and entertaining, but in its execution, you feel like you've been served a bowl full of "meh" at the Cracker Barrel for breakfast. Technically, it's decent though unspectacular and the supplements are hollow. If you're a fan of Carell and/or Fey, it's worth a Friday night rental, but don't consider buying it unless you have low expectations.