Comics Fey and Carell hit it off in first film outing
Film of the week: Tina Fey and Steve Carell are excellent company but Date Night’s script is stuck in a rut
The American comedian Tina Fey sprang to international stardom in 2008 with her uncanny impersonations of Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live. But much of her work - including the critically acclaimed NBC sitcom 30 Rock - is not widely known in Britain. Her new movie Date Night, however, looks set to introduce her to a bigger audience in the UK when it opens here this week.
Fey's 30 Rock has only aired in Britain on the digital channel Five USA while her 2008 film Baby Mama - starring Fey as a businesswoman who hires a surrogate mother - targeted a more limited female demographic. Date Night, in which Fey stars alongside fellow TV comedian Steve Carell (he of The American Office fame), fits into that relatively new Hollywood genre, the marital action comedy.
Like others of its ilk, such as The Bounty Hunter and Meet the Morgans, it is designed to appeal to both men and women making it perfect for a 'date night' – the relationship boost in which many married Americans, including the First Couple, like to partake.
Sadly for Date Night the movie, while Fey and Carell may be excellent company they are the best things in this enjoyable but mostly predictable comedy.
Fey and Carell play Claire and Phil Foster, a married New Jersey couple who are stuck in a rut. When two friends announce they are splitting up they are prompted to spice up their regular date night - a weekly meal at a local steakhouse - for a more exciting night out in Manhattan at a trendy new restaurant.
Naturally the restaurant is booked out and in a rare act of impulsiveness the Fosters grab an unclaimed table by passing themselves off as a couple called the Tripplehorns. A tired mistaken-identity plot then ensues as it transpires that the Tripplehorns are wanted by a local crime boss (Ray Liotta).
Carell and Fey share an easy chemistry in their first big-screen outing together, but ultimately seem hampered by Shrek writer Josh Klausner's stilted script. There are some funny one-liners but the really good gags are few and far between. And director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum 1 and 2) seems determined to cover as many cinematic bases as possible by shoehorning poignant romantic scenes in between elaborate car chases and shoot-outs.
WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING:
Nick de Semlyen, Empire: "What's missing is rhythm. Date Night could have been snappy and unpredictable. Instead, this sags and lurches like a first date with someone who just wants to talk about their job." (2/5 stars)
Dave Calhoun, Time Out: "Fey and Carell are better than this, but when the other options in the action rom-com territory include such efforts as The Bounty Hunter, who's complaining?" (3/5 stars)
Sukhdev Sandhu, the Daily Telegraph: "Fey and Carell do little more than perform auto-pastiches: the former delivers her wisecracks whippily enough, but they’re not as sharp as those she writes for herself; the latter is, once more, an earnest middle-ranker with a heart of gold."
Peter Bradshaw, the Guardian: "Carell and Fey's acting styles are really very different. In closeup, Fey's face looks like that of a real, stressed human being, but Carell's – funny guy though he obviously is – always looks a bit weird: like that of a comedy cyborg with a removable panel in the back of his head." (3/5 stars)