9.11.2010

REVIEW: Date Night (Shawn Levy, 2010)

Is it strange to wish a film was made 70 years ago? Maybe not so strange if it's a single film, I suppose, but I find myself feeling this way about a handful of Hollywood's recent offerings. Most recently Knight & Day made me long for a Cary Grant take on its material - and that's not intended as a crack on Knight's real leading man - I love the Cruiser and think he's unfairly receiving the brunt of criticism for his latest film's underperformance, which seems more likely blamed on a confused marketing campaign and director James Mangold's apprehension to commit to an original theme. Now, I like Steve Carell and Tina Fey as much as the next person. They've always been hilarious and deserving of the high profiles they've attained. With this popular hilarity, though, shouldn't their pairing as a married couple haplessly tossed in the thick of a political mafia battle be a more potent concoction? For much of the proceedings I desperately tried to hear William Powell and Mirna Loy snappily firing back at one another in place of the sadly diluted late night comedy stars actually on screen.

Perhaps a stronger reason behind my foolish wish is sterile directing. In the screwball comedy's heyday, great directors like Billy Wilder and Frank Capra helmed such excellent films as The Seven-Year Itch and It Happened One Night, respectively. Now we have the Night at the Museum guy. Shawn Levy plays puppet to script, and in this case the dialogue relies on star power while neglecting to give that power anything to work with.

Of course, as suggested by my initial invocation, the script doesn't entirely suck. Aside from a few pratfalls too ridiculous even for the purposefully preposterous scenario, it works. Well, it works in theory. With bolder direction and an on-screen talent time-warp, we could have a good flick on our hands. Sounds a rather broad statement boiled down like that - applicable to a great many films.

Another of Date Night's aspects a wide number of contemporaries could easily be tagged with - and about as fair as the aforementioned Cruise-bashing - is that all its best bits are spoiled in its trailer. This criticism is unfair since, obviously, marketing campaigns  are separate artistic entities from their advertised films (at least in a traditional sense, so this is not to consider the viral craze which more enhances a product). Fact is, though, there are only two memorable moments put forth in the genuine article that weren't drilled into my head by previews. Apart from those moments, I remained unamused throughout. It's hard to say what the case would be had I gone in blind, but with the inconsistent tone created by Date Night's tendency for awkwardly placed moments of anger or sentimentality, I'd wager the best gags are lost in unevenness.

So if it's a date night, I'd recommend avoiding Date Night. Pull the trailer up on YouTube instead - it's much funnier. If anything at all positive is taken from the experience, it's a welcome reminder that Mark Wahlberg possesses a fantastic body.

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