Bland 'Date'

Fey and Carrell overwhelmed by night on the town

Posted: April 08, 2010

TINA FEY has become an alpha female by signaling to women that it's OK not to be.

Her "30 Rock" brand is unique - the implied lesson of Liz Lemon is that you can't have it all, and you probably don't want it all, because people who want and have it all are demented and probably immoral. Glamour, fame, corporate success - it's all to be mistrusted.

Middle management is fine, so is junk food, so is crashing on your couch alone, watching reality TV in your sweatpants.

In short, stop judging yourself by the alpha model. It's like a grown-up version of the message she delivered in "Mean Girls" - work hard, do your best, be decent and don't pay attention to standard-setters, be they some high-school queen bee or the editor of a lifestyle magazine.

Fey weaves that ethos nicely into "Date Night," playing Claire, a woman in a comfortably dull marriage to a square accountant named Phil (Steve Carell). The movie opens with a telling scene of Claire attending a book group, at which her suburban cohorts find common ground with the heroine of the quintessential Oprah-certified novel - the memoir of an Afghan girl forced to have her first period under Taliban rule.

Later, a friend implores Fey to absorb the moral of the story - "don't be ashamed of how vibrant you are."

This prompts her and her husband to reassess the quality of their cozy union: If our marriage isn't "vibrant" is it any good?

They try to answer that question on a ritual date night. Instead of settling for Applebee's, Phil tries to bluff his way into Manhattan's hottest, snobbiest restaurant, leading to a mistaken identity twist that has them targeted by mobsters, extortionists and murderers.

The plot is completely disposable (and obviously recyclable) and not very important - it's just a backdrop for Fey and Carell to find laughs in their characters and in absurd situations.

Still, it would have been nice if director Shawn Levy ("Night at the Museum") had done a better job. Details and atmosphere that would have added leverage to the jokes - the snottiness of the restaurant, the raunch of a strip club, the thrill of a car chase are all lazy and second-rate.

Levy tries to inflate the movie, mistaking big with funny. "Date Night" has an unwieldy scale and is crammed with "Hey, look!" cameos - Mark Wahlberg, Mark Ruffalo, Kristen Wiig, James Franco, Mila Kunis, Ray Liotta.

Fey and Carell do all the worthwhile work, and they're good together, kind of the anti-glamour inverse of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in "Mr. and Mrs. Smith."

They're entirely believable as ordinary schlubs from the 'burbs who discover that the happy couple is the one that stops worrying about how vibrant they are.

Produced and directed by Shawn Levy, written by Josh Klausner, music by Christophe Beck, distributed by Twentieth Century Fox.

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