So since neither 30 Rock nor The Office had new episodes airing last week, we went and saw Date Night. Since we followed it up with dinner, we inadvertently completed the cliché. The lame thing here is that some of the funniest moments were contained in the trailer, which always creates the impression of watching a longer, less-funny trailer in a theater. This little movie, at least, turned the tables from the conventional by offering a funnier second half than first half. It’s the sort of movie that stands or falls on its own ability to elicit laughter, and certainly not on its ability to offer something novel or provocative. This is the basic problem with these films, which is why they are usually compelled to throw in an outrageous comedy bit to maintain viewer interest. In Little Miss Sunshine, a movie that posed as something unconventional, that bit was a strip routine performed by a grade school girl. In Napoleon Dynamite, it was the titular character getting down to the grooves of a boy band. (Quirky, indeed.) In Date Night, it happens when the characters played by Tina Fey and Steve Carell pole dance together in a dark, dingy, red-light-lit underground night club. We saw Tina, as Liz Lemon, dance with strippers in the pilot episode of 30 Rock, which somehow worked a little better than it does in this movie. One gets the impression that the writers, bored and lazy, went with the first idea that came to them when confronted with the problem of renewing viewer interest at the two-thirds point of the film.
But at least there’s Marky-Mark. The movie’s only f-bomb is pretty well-placed, really, as Carell reaches the end of his rope and demands that the tri-nippled man put on a $%*# shirt. But enough about Mark Wahlberg’s nipples (gonna get lots of hits to this post). Date Night is a little confounding for a few reasons. The first sign that something is off happens before the opening credits, with the screen is filled with “20th Century Fox”. This is just a little weird because Carell and Fey typically work for NBC Universal, a company rather opposed to the mainstream conservatism of Fox. 30 Rock takes regular jabs at Fox, Rupert Murdoch, and all things associated with them. The character of Liz Lemon is not exactly traditional, though she embraces certain aspects of the modern woman that have been caricatured and stereotyped. She’s pretty feminist, and although Jack Donaghy mocks her feminism at every opportunity, the show itself mocks his right-wing character constantly, too – especially through the casting of Alec Baldwin, Huffington Post blogger. So when the first shot of Date Night is of Carell and Fey in bed together, sleeping, facing opposite directions, it fits the Fox mold much better than the NBC mold. The kids run in and jump on them, and later they discuss where to go for date night when the babysitter shows up. They’re the proverbial married couple, even from New Jersey, which is the proverbial “suburban” to New York’s “urban.” Fey’s character says as much at one point, something to the effect of, ‘We’re not New York people; we’re just a little old New Jersey couple.’
The point of the film’s story, of course, is to celebrate the ordinary married couple, to show that they’re still fun, funny, and able to have adventures of their own. This is kind of nice, really, but it stands apart from Fey/Carell TV material. The stand-out moment in the film, in this respect, is toward the end when Carell’s character tells Fey’s character just to trust him and follow his instructions; he has everything under control. The wifeis unable to remember the plan, carry it out, or operate with authority. The husband, despite being a bit of a goofball, remembers it, executes it, and tells his wife what to do (and she obeys). While there’s certainly nothing “wrong” with the film using these age-old patterns, it contrasts noticeably from how we’re used to seeing these two actors. Since this change takes some getting used to, it could account for the film’s seemingly funnier second half in comparison with the first. What’s fairly certain watching this one, though, is that the film rides completely on its two main stars and numerous cameos; nothing entertaining about the story, dialogue isn’t that funny, and the action scenes are a stretch. What Fey and Carell say usually isn’t that funny; what’s funny at times is how they say it. The presence of James Franco and others isn’t optimized, as if Franco’s very presence is enough to score the movie some points. Certain jokes are repeated ad nauseum, again, as if the repetition itself is funny. (“You stole our reservation?! Who does that!”) At the risk of sinking to a shameless Ebert-style review, wait for this one on Netflix. It’ll be a better movie if you do.