Review Overview: 'Date Night' Funny, but Falls Short

Sounds the chorus, "More improv from Tina Fey and Steve Carell!"

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Date Night, a star vehicle powered by the unflappably hilarious Steve Carell and Tina Fey, premiered this week to mixed reviews. The film chronicles the trials and tribulations of remarkably normal married couple Phil and Claire Foster as their routine "date night" quickly devolves into a sequence of car chases, gunfire, and panicked episodes. Many report the movie was funny, but fell short. Critics had high expectations for the pairing of two television comedy powerhouses--the clueless Michael Scott of "The Office" (Carell) and sarcastic Liz Lemon of "30 Rock" (Fey)--and many have concluded that the performances were a little more boxed-in than they might have liked.

  • Better Than Bad  At the New York Times, A.O. Scott enjoyed the movie, but expected more from Carell and Fey. This match-up of two "accomplished funny people" as opposed to "the usual mismatched, nice looking pair of romantic comedy corn muffins" held promise. But Scott found that the "anxious sarcasm" and "antic cluelessness" of Liz Lemon and Michael Scott, their television counterparts, could barely show through the "drab formula of long-form, big-screen entertainment." He concludes, "'Date Night' sets these stars afloat in a busy and conventional story, hoping that their proven talents, or maybe their reputations, will keep the picture from sinking. It doesn’t entirely, but treading water for 90 minutes is no great accomplishment."
  • Funny but Unfulfilled  Kenneth Turran of the L.A. Times encourages readers to think of Date Night as "a half-a-loaf comedy... though it is funny it will likely leave you hungry for more as you consider the age-old perception that having half a loaf is better than none at all." Turran also concludes that the film itself leaves little room for Carell and Fey to let there inner funny shine: "'Date Night' contrives some awkward and self-consciously poignant moments between Phil and Claire and the kind of super-elaborate car chase Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn would have had no part of. None of this would be troublesome except for the knowledge of how funny Carell and Fey are when the film is smart enough to use them well. This is vividly demonstrated in the outrageous gag reel outtakes placed at both the beginning and the end of the final credits. When we see what these two can do, the feeling is inescapable that 'Date Night' has left some laughs on the table."
  • Nevertheless, the Funniest So Far  Dana Stevens at Slate calls Date Night the "funniest comedy of the year*," qualifying that term because it's been a weak year for comedies, and because the film never hits "full-on laugh-riot momentum." After praising the ensemble work of supporting stars Mark Wahlberg, James Franco, and Mila Kunis, Stevens also observes that failed to fulfill its comedic potential: "The one place Date Night should have permitted itself more excess would have been allowing its actors more flights of fancy," she writes. "Some of the biggest laughs in the movie come during the outtakes under the final credits ...By boxing its lead couple into a conventional action story line, Date Night throws away its chance to be the funniest movie of the year without any asterisk."
  • In a positive Chicago Sun-Times review, Roger Ebert says the film is "funny against all odds." He praises the "sheer bewilderment" of Carell and Fey as two likable, "plausible people trapped by this nightmare misunderstanding." He expands this into a larger point about Hollywood comedies: they're funnier if you like and relate to the characters: "A movie like 'Date Night' encourages Hollywood comedy to occasionally dial down, and realize that comedy emerges from characters and situations and can’t be manufactured from manic stunts and overkill. If you don’t start out liking the Fosters and hoping they have a really nice date night, not much else is going to work."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.