Date Night: Extended Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (30th October 2010).
The Film

Have you ever watched a comedy and found yourself thinking, “This film has a terrible plot and paints by numbers, but I’ll be damned if [insert comedian] doesn’t make it work perfectly”? I’m hesitant to list specific examples because comedy is such a subjective genre, but I think we can all agree that a major part of what makes one work is the timing and delivery of its stars. Generic plot lines are a dime a dozen in Hollywood, and when a hot actor finds himself starring in one of these clichéd vehicles, the only thing they can do is hope their improvisational abilities will produce enough gems to make the film a hit. Now, I didn’t think that “Date Night” (2010) would end up being one of those films that completely fails on all levels. I thought the trailers looked exceptionally formulaic, using a plot I think we’ve seen countless times on screen, but I didn’t think it looked horrendous. Plus, it had the benefit of having two of television’s hottest comedians, Tina Fey and Steve Carell, starring as the two main leads. Surely, at the least, the movie would be sharp, witty and on point, as that’s customarily what I’ve come to expect from these two. Unfortunately, I discovered that it’s so bland, so middle-of-the-road, that it’s almost not even worth discussing. You know how sometimes you’ll see a movie that was either fantastically awesome or insanely terrible and you feel compelled to tell all your friends about it either way? Well, this is one of those films that you forget about mere minutes after watching it; a film you might casually mention as having seen if it gets brought up, but you wouldn’t necessarily go out of your way to discuss it at any length. I remember this as being one of my “one the fence” films, meaning I thought it had potential to be good, but I wouldn’t have gone to see it unless I heard good word of mouth from respected sources. Only one of my friends saw it on a plane, and he told me it was “meh”. He was absolutely right about that.

Phil (Steve Carell) and Claire (Tina Fey) are parents in a typical suburban nuclear family, working 9-5 and finding little time for themselves after handling the duties of raising two children together. Their one glimmer of weekly excitement comes in the form of “date night”, which is usually at a local, mediocre restaurant where they order the same thing and spend the night goofing on fellow diners. But all of this ritual and stagnation is beginning to grate on the both of them, so Phil decides to shake things up by driving into Manhattan for dinner at a trendy new seafood restaurant which recently opened. Of course, he didn’t bother to make a reservation, so without a table Claire resigns herself to another night at the local joint in town. Phil, however, has other plans, and when the hostess calls out for a couple who had reservations he seizes the moment and takes their table. Unfortunately, the couple who they took the table from had stolen some property from the local crime boss, Joe Miletto (Ray Liotta), and a couple of his thugs show up to reclaim it… from Phil & Claire. The couple then spends the rest of the night trying to evade capture while looking for any kind of help they can get from the police, or from one of Claire’s prospective clients, Holbrooke (Mark Walhberg).

The best example I can provide for how to do the “person(s) thrust into unforeseen misadventures” storyline would have to be Martin Scorsese’s “After Hours” (1985), where Griffin Dunne winds up having one bizarre encounter after another in the city of New York. “Date Night” shares the same setting, but the laughs feel so much more processed. Since the plot is about as lackluster as you can get, the onus of comedy falls squarely on the shoulders of both Carell and Fey. Problem is, neither one of them is particularly good. I’ll admit I’m not always the biggest fan of Carell. I find his humor relies far too much on awkward pauses and moronic decisions versus actual wit or attempts to be clever. I can’t recall anything I’ve seen him in where I felt he was genuinely funny. I should also note that I’ve never seen an episode of “The Office” (2005-present), a show that everyone I know swears up and down is comedy gold. Here, he’s generally playing the same character I’ve seen him play before, albeit with slightly more intelligence. He isn’t quite on the level of his Brick Tamland character from “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” (2004), but the absurdity of his comedy is just the same. In fact, I think I might give Brick the edge purely for his abilities with a trident. Regardless, nothing he threw out here resonated with me. He had some marginally funny lines, but it became painfully obvious that he detracted from the script more than he should have, and his improvisational skills aren’t nearly as sharp as they should be.

Fey, however, has no excuses here. I’ve always been a fan of hers, but I can also admit to never watching much of anything she’s been involved with, save for “Saturday Night Live” (1975-present). She always killed it on the Weekend Update segments, and her dead-on impersonation of Sarah Palin firmly rooted her into the cultural lexicon while single-handedly making a complete and total mockery of the woman. She’s smart, sexy, witty, sexy, kinda nerdy… did I mention sexy? It’s those damn glasses, I swear! Fey strikes me as someone who puts a lot of effort in to making her comedy work, and she also champions female comedians any chance she gets. So, it caught me off guard that she barely got much of a rise out of me. Without question, she came off much funnier than Carell, but her jokes seemed to fall just as flat more often than not. I got what she was going for, cracking wise about obvious blunders and real life silliness; it’s just that none of it made for a true laugh. The most I elicited was a few chuckles at her observations, but it was far from the kind of acerbic, biting humor I wanted her to unleash.

It’s sad when glorified cameos steal your movie away from you, but that’s exactly what Mark Walhberg and James Franco have done here. Wahlberg steals the movie as the ex-Black Ops/potential home buyer, Holbrooke, who Claire turns to when they need help getting some information on the real couple who swindled Miletto. Walhberg appears shirtless in every scene (a running gag) and his delivery and suave, casual demeanor make his line delivery stick better than anyone else’s. In fact, some of the best dialogue Carell gets is when he’s becoming increasingly jealous of Holbrooke’s impressive physique and his flirtatious exchanges with Claire, so Walhberg even manages to make others look good. Likewise, once Holbrooke helps them find the actual couple they’re impersonating, it turns out to be James Franco and Mila Kunis. Franco is one of my favorite actors today because he knows how to have fun with his roles and make them his own; he isn’t one of those guys who constantly plays himself. His turn here as a lowlife named Taste had me rolling with his outlandish affirmations of love for Kunis’ character. Without the two of them, this movie would have been a total D.O.A. in my eyes.

Director Shawn Levy hasn’t done anything I’ve liked, so it doesn’t surprise me much that this film is no exception. He’s best known for the atrocious “Night at the Museum” films (2006-2009). If you liked the humor in those, you might like what he’s done here. I’ll say that, while I don’t enjoy his movies, I think the man displays a serious tenacity for his job which came through in both his commentary track and his inclusion in many of the bonus features included here. I think he’s good at making films which can appeal to the masses with their broad strokes of humor that register well with Joe Six Pack, but I haven’t seen anything from him that lands outside the box. He’s made a name for himself directing mostly dumb comedies. A glance at his IMDB page shows he’s also responsible for the film which left Peter Sellers spinning in his grave, the abysmal remake of “The Pink Panther” (2006). But I don’t want to completely tear the man down. If you liked any of the films I’ve mentioned above, it’s likely you’ll have a fun time with “Date Night”. But if you’re like me, and you prefer your comedy black as night and uncomfortably funny, then this most likely isn’t your bag.

This 2-disc Blu-ray contains both the 88-minute "theatrical" PG-13 cut of the film, as well as an "extended version" which runs for 101 minutes. I chose to watch the "theatrical cut" since I hadn’t seen the film prior to writing this review, but I have heard comments that the "extended cut" adds some moments which are genuinely funny. I don’t know if they could have done much to save the film, but it might be worth it to watch that edit first if you’re unfamiliar with the "theatrical cut" version. Might as well try to wring all the laughs you can out of yourself.

Video

It’s seems fitting that our protagonists spend the night running all over the place because the 2.35:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer for “Date Night” is, literally, all over the place. Aside from the obvious benefit that high-definition gives to most any film on home video, this is a spotty transfer that ends up looking terrible far more than it should. The opening scenes of the film purposely feature a muted color palette (to emphasize the mundane, as per Shawn Levy’s commentary), but once the action kicks in post-meal at Claw, the picture never really jumps out like he may have intended. In fact, the scenes in the restaurant end up looking the best since there’s so much variation in colors and lighting. Once Phil & Claire enter the city of Manhattan, things seem to only get progressively worse. Numerous shots are plagued with noise and excessive grain, and black levels often appear weak, almost never descending below a dark grey. Not every shot is this bad, but the ones that are stand out in my mind as being prime examples of how a film should NOT look on Blu-ray, especially one so new. As you might expect, the level of fine detail is retained as I can see no hints of digital manipulation to smooth out the image. It’s a shame that they had the entire city of Manhattan to work with, and yet they never seem to make much use of the cityscapes and eclectic nightlife it’s known for. The camera work is largely at fault here. All of the pre-Claw scenes are shot using a standard, static camera, but once the action kicks in handheld camera are employed, and they simply don’t have the ability to make for a pristine image. This isn’t the type of film that needs to look like it was shot by Paul Greengrass, so I don’t know why Levy felt this aesthetic was required.

Audio

Even though the film is sold as being heavy on the action (at times, at least), the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround soundtrack mixed at 48kHz/24-bit doesn’t pack much of a wallop. You have to remember that, at its core, this is a romantic comedy with some brief sequences of action. The majority of the track is relegated to the front channels with the rears only kicking in for some ambient filler, whether it be the sounds of diners making small talk when Phil & Claire are out to eat, or the voice of the city when they’re out in Manhattan. But the dynamics of the track are lacking, and there isn’t much variation to keep things feeling full and spacious. A few scenes of gunfire and the odd explosion or car crash breathe some much-needed life into things, but these are fleeting examples in what is an otherwise mundane soundtrack.
There are also French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mixes included. Subtitles are available in English for the hearing impaired, Spanish and French.

Extras

Not looking to skimp out, Fox has gifted “Date Night” with a two-disc set replete with a wealth of bonus features, including an audio commentary, several featurettes, deleted & extended scenes, a gag reel, trailers and more. A second disc containing a digital copy is also included. I do have a major gripe about the supplements here, however: Fox has chosen to encode them all in standard definition. I don’t understand this decision, as they’ve always been known to offer up bonus features in high-definition. I can only assume that perhaps space might have been an issue, but since this is a 50 GB disc, I don’t see that being the case. Odd.

DISC ONE:

An audio commentary by director Shawn Levy ("theatrical cut" only) gets things going. He seems to never be at a loss for words, but he also comes across as one of those guys that talks way too much and you’d wish he would shut up sometime. Still, he does offer up A LOT of information about the production, covering everything from lighting and shooting decisions to how they handled all of the improvisation and shooting at some of the New York locations. It’s a very informative track, I just found Levy a bit grating at times.

A handful of deleted scenes (480p) are included, and can be watched all together or separately:

- “Parking” runs for 2 minutes and 49 seconds, Phil takes an extremely long time to parallel park a car. Gags like this are always old hat and often annoying more than anything, so this was wisely cut.
- “Car and Movies” runs for 1 minute and 24 seconds, Phil and Claire have some boring, mundane conversation while driving to the movies.
- “Holbrooke’s Hallway” runs for 28 seconds, we get a glimpse at some of Holbrooke’s achievement as Phil and Claire walk through his apartment.
- “First Apartment” runs for 1 minute and 3 seconds, Phil and Claire reminisce about their first place together when they happen to walk past it in the city.

“Alt City” is simply a gag reel (480p) of alternate joke takes which runs for 1 minute and 48 seconds.

There are a few extended scenes (480p) available to watch together or individually for the following:

- “Brad & Hailey” runs for 5 minutes and 26 seconds, this is just a lot of extra dialogue between the two couples when Phil & Claire go visit.
- “Babysitter” runs for 2 minutes and 53 seconds, Phil & Claire negotiate with the babysitter when they realize their night is going to be a long one.
- “Real Estate” runs for 38 seconds, just an extra bit when Claire is showing a house to a prospective couple.
- “At Holbrooke’s” runs for 1 minute and 28 seconds, a few more gags with Marky Mark and Phil & Claire.

“Directing 301” (480p) is a featurette that runs for 21 minutes and 48 seconds. Director Shawn Levy gives us a behind-the-scenes look at a day on the film’s set. This is a great piece that follows him around set as we speak to numerous members of the production crew, and they discuss what it is they do on set. Shots are set up, actors rehearse their lines, lighting is adjusted and corrected… virtually every aspect of getting a shot composed and printed is covered here, albeit briefly.

“Disaster Dates” (480p) is a featurette which runs for 4 minutes and 43 seconds. The film’s cast discusses the horrors of dating and talks about some of their worst experiences in that arena.

“Directing Off Camera” (480p) is a featurette which runs for 3 minutes and 48 seconds. Director Levy talks about his process as a director, specifically how he likes to yell directions out loud from behind the camera while shooting to keep the momentum up.

“Steve and Tina Camera Tests” (480p) is a reel of various wardrobe and lighting tests performed with both lead actors, and it runs for 3 minutes and 9 seconds. Levy introduces this clip and offers up a little insight into why these tests are so important to the production.

A gag reel (480p) runs for 5 minutes and 49 seconds. It’s amusing, but I was just enjoying all the extra Fey footage I could.

A few PSA's (480p) are included that the cast shot to entice viewers into enjoying their own “date night”. There are three versions, and they each run for 40 seconds.

The film’s theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 2 minutes and 25 seconds.

A selection of bonus trailers (1080p) is included for the following:

- “Fox Digital Copy” promo runs for 49 seconds.
- “Hot Tub Time Machine” runs for 2 minutes and 27 seconds.
- “Just Wright” runs for 2 minutes and 27 seconds.
- “Modern Family” DVD promo runs for 2 minutes and 45 seconds.
- “Drama on Fox” TV promo runs for 1 minute and 27 seconds.
- “Predators” runs for 1 minute and 51 seconds.
- “Our Family Wedding” runs for 2 minutes and 24 seconds.
- “Best of FX” promo runs for 1 minute and 2 seconds.
- “Knight & Day” runs for 2 minutes and 27 seconds.

There is also a Digital Copy “How To” (1080p) included for those of you who have just been awakened from cryo-sleep and have no clue how to operate a computer in this strange, futuristic new society. It runs for 3 minutes and 35 seconds.

The disc is also BD-Live enabled, though there is nothing specific to the film available at present.

DISC TWO:

This is a digital copy of the "extended version" of the film, and can be used on both Windows Media and iTunes compatible devices.

Packaging

The two-disc set comes housed in the standard keepcase with each disc housed opposite the other, snugly held in place on a hub. There is a slipcover with some lenticular art work which shows off the main couple either looking wrecked or dapper, depending on the angle you view it from.

Overall

I honestly expected more from “Date Night”. I had hoped this would be one of those films that caught me off guard with its quick humor, rapid-fire wit and maybe even some twists and turns that aren’t normally employed. Instead, I feel like I just watched the same generic vehicle that has been getting pumped out for years – a forgettable film that won’t stand the test of time and will fade into obscurity not too far from now. They did right by putting two of the hottest comedians in the lead roles, but the script and improvisation didn’t do anything to bring out the best of either of their abilities. This Blu-ray is stacked, though, so if you enjoyed the film then you may want to add this to your collection. I thought that director Shawn Levy’s enthusiasm in the bonus features was infectious, even if it didn’t do anything to sway my opinion of his film.

The Film: C Video: B- Audio: B- Extras: B+ Overall: B-

 


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