I can’t remember now who once suggested that there are essentially two kinds of comics: those who do funny things (lame) and those who do things funny (inspired). Date Night, which pairs NBC sitcom titans Steve Carell and Tina Fey, makes the grave error of saddling two people who naturally do things funny with a laborious plot that requires them to do funny things. Looking to spice up their dull marriage a little, Carell and Fey’s Phil and Claire Foster depart boring old New Jersey for a night on the town in Manhattan, only to get way more excitement than they bargained for when they impulsively claim the dinner reservation of another couple—who happen to be blackmailing an angry mob goon (Ray Liotta on autopilot). Release the crack-up!
Or not. Directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, The Pink Panther), who seems to have carved out a lucrative career neutering our most anarchic comedians, Date Night lurches from one ostensibly uproarious set piece to another—car chase! pole dance! Marky Mark!—but Carell and Fey have so much goofy business to perform that they never manage to find a rhythm, falling back instead on their respective basic personas (clueless dork, frazzled nerd). Nor does the movie’s parade of glorified cameos (including Mark Ruffalo, James Franco and Common) amount to more than rib-nudging, though Mark Wahlberg gets a few chuckles just by remaining blithely shirtless at all times. When, say, Matthew McConaughey and Renée Zellweger make a feeble romantic comedy, we can all just ignore it. Seeing these two wasted is truly depressing.