Saturday, April 10, 2010

Two stars in search of a movie

There should be a law. Comedians who can write should not perform in scripts they could write better themselves. This applies especially to Tina Fey and Steve Martin, who write good comedy scripts. (This does not apply to Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler who do not write good comedy scripts. They should always perform in movies written by their betters. Which would include a group of 9th graders from the East Wadsworth Memorial Middle School.)

It is really hard to understand how two such funny people as Steve Carell and Tina Fey could fail to detect the sloppy, lazy haphazard and unfunny contours of the script of Date Night (2010). Yes, the premise is good, but the covered the premise in about 15 seconds in the trailer (most of the rest of the trailer was dull).

Examples: Steve Carell has taken the reservation of another couple. On the way to the table, Tina Fey has such funny lines as "Oh no, you really shouldn't do this." I realize his may not be an exact quote, but surely somebody could have written a joke to cover the action while they are seated. Or else just cut.

Steve and Tina are being threatened by the baddies. Steve tells them the thing they are after (let's call it the McGuffin) is in the Central Park boathouse. Central Park was a great idea for the movie because...well, I really don't know why. They fool around in the boathouse for a while, then Steve and Tina escape. So why Central Park, which has never been more boring and pointless on film. Then Steve and Tina are running around holding the boat over their heads and they bang into a tree and they drop the boat. Wow! What a comedy feast! I mean, that the best physical schtick they could come up with?

It's set up that Steve Carell never remembers to close drawers. This pays off brilliantly in the climax when...well, actually it never pays off. It is completely pointless.

Steve bashes the car he's driving into a taxi, so their bumpers are stuck together. Then both drivers push on the accelerator. Shot of wheels spinning. Shot of drivers shouting. Shot of wheels spinning. Shot of drivers shouting. Shot of wheels spinning. Shot of drivers shouting...does wheel-spinning seem especially appropriate here? Just as we're wondering whether they'll go one way or the other--they go one way. No surprise, no variation, just push, push back, push, push back and then one guy wins.

Then there's Mark Wahlberg who's a mysterious guy involved in international black ops who helps out Steve and Tina, except that in a surprising twist...oops, forgot to create a surprise twist.

Then, at the end, the villains are frozen when the unarmed Tina begins to count to three, which always works with her toddlers. It works with these evil and vicious villains because...because somebody thought it would be funny, even if it makes no sense for the characters and the situation.

See, on top of an ill-thought-out comedy-free script (I mean, seriously, Mila Kunis is the funniest person in the movie, which is sad), then they hired Shawn Levy to direct. Mr. Levy has directed a terrible remake-in-name-only of Cheaper By The Dozen, a terrible remake-in-name-only of The Pink Panther and the very-amusing-to-9-year-olds Night In The Museum movies. The man does not know about set-up and payoff, he doesn't know how to build and fill moments, he has no concept of pace, of characterization, of using character to drive story nor does he have any gift for imaginative physical comedy. This guy thinks that people running into things and falling down is funny. (So did my kids when they were 3.)

A smart producer would have recognized that the shape of Date Night is essentially that of an action comedy and, as was done with Beverly Hills Cop 2, hired an action director to keep the picture moving, devise twists and surprises and relied on his stars and their writers to keep the quips and comedy business floating on the surface of an action-film structure. The story itself is not inherently funny--Hitchcock based half his career on mistaken-identity suspense films. So the story and the situation will not deliver the funny. That's going to require some work by talented people. And there is one slight little problem.

Shawn Levy has ABSOLUTELY NO TALENT WHATSOEVER. If someone is scheduling and intervention and we can somehow convince Mr. Levy that he is in the wrong line of work and perhaps he could do something better with his life, count me in. I will do anything to hasten his retirement from filmmaking.

That said, Carell and Fey have a nice team chemistry, and I would enjoy seeing them appear together in an actual movie--not necessarily as husband-and-wife or romantic partners, but comedy partners, which is where they meet well. I don't have much hope. Coming in 2012: Date Night 2--This time it's even more incompetent.

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