Date Night

(USA 2010)

I love me some Tina Fey, I usually like Steve Carell, and I certainly won’t complain if Mark Wahlberg is shirtless in every scene. Add James Franco, Mila Kunis, Mark Ruffalo, Kristen Wiig, and even Common, and you’d expect to have a winner on your hands. Right? Wrong.

Date Night is a cute adventure film, but it’s certainly not an adventurous undertaking. It’s formulaic, predictable Hollywood milquetoast aimed at married suburban couples—director Shawn Levy’s specialty. Fey and Carell play the Fosters, a normal, middle-aged, overworked New Jersey couple whose longtime marriage has lost its mojo. They do date night periodically to keep things alive—it doesn’t seem to be working. One night, they decide to be adventurous and head to Manhattan. When they learn that the wait for a table at an exclusively hip restaurant will be a few hours because they don’t have a reservation, they pretend to be another couple, the Tripplehorns, to snag theirs. The Fosters end up with way more excitement than either of them bargained for after a pair of mobsters (Common and Jimmi Simpson) confronts them about a jump drive their boss (Ray Liotta) wants.

Fey and Carell have a sort of chemistry, but it’s benign. They do this thing where they imagine the conversations that patrons at other tables are having—it’s cute and very Seinfeldian. The Maitre D’ (Nick Kroll) is funny because he is such an asshole—in a David Spade way. Other than that, the laughs here are far and few between. The problem isn’t the actors—it’s Josh Klausner’s lame script, which plays out like a bland and weird ripoff of After Hours, Adventures in Babysitting, and True Romance. Date Night has a few good lines and a few good scenes, but not enough to make it funny for very long.

88 minutes
Rated PG-13

(TBS) D+

The Martian

(USA 2015)

Aside from Alien and Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s films don’t excite me. So, it should come as no surprise that The Martian didn’t do it for me, either. I didn’t hate it, but I definitely found it lacking. It aims for blockbuster status, which it achieved—good for it. Like far too many blockbusters, though, The Martian is an average Hollywood film at best.

Matt Damon stars as botanist/astronaut Mark Watney, a member of the Ares III mission to Mars. To Scott’s credit, he gets right down to business from the very first scene: while the crew is collecting soil samples, a violent dust storm kicks up out of nowhere and knocks down a sattellite (or something). Watney is struck with debris and pushed out of sight. His crew mates take him for dead. He’s not, we learn once the dust settles (no pun intended) and Ares has already left Mars.

Based on Andy Weir’s 2011 novel of the same name—which I didn’t read—the story seems to lend itself naturally to drama, suspense, and action. Somehow, The Martian is oddly low on all three until the last half hour or so. The story moves along and Watney faces his share of obstacles, none of which are a surprise. He approaches them all with a MacGyver-like ingenuity (duct tape literally does fix anything). I won’t ruin the ending, but all it got out of me was a shrug. Eh.

Mars to Houston: what is Kristen Wiig doing in this movie? I laud her efforts to expand her horizons, but she’s not there yet. She can’t do drama. She sticks out like a sixth finger.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, The Martian has its positive aspects. The shots on Mars (actually Jordan) are realistic and downright stunning. Damon is excellent: he single-handedly saves The Martian from slipping into a black hole. Good thing, because the success of the entire script rests on his shoulders. He gives Watney sympathy and relatability. I like his character. His constant talking to himself to act as narrator easily could have gone south fast but he makes it work almost unnoticeably. To lighten the tone, he adds a believable sense of humor that I didn’t expect considering the plot. I now understand the Golden Globe “best actor in a comedy” thing. The disco hits are a nice touch that effectively augments this subtle comic relief. Overall, though, I expected something a lot more interesting.

(ArcLight) C

http://www.foxmovies.com/movies/the-martian

Welcome to Me

(USA 2014)

What happens when a middle-aged bipolar lady (Kristen Wiig) on disability wins $89M in the California lottery and buys her own talk show about herself? One would expect hilarity to ensue, but the opposite happens: Alice Klieg makes a bigger, sadder mess out of things. Money really does change everything. Can she repair the damage?

I love Kristen Wiig, but she can go overboard on stupid. That’s what happened here: Welcome to Me is stupid but not all that funny. While the subject matter is darker, the ending is neat and predictable. It tries to make a grand point about mental illness—I suspect—but the effort falls flat. Here’s to the next project.

One big positive: the supporting cast. James Marsden and Wes Bentley as the scheming Ruskin brothers and a surprise appearance by Tim Robbins as Alice’s therapist are nice touches. Joan Cusack as Dawn, the cunty producer annoyed by Alice from the outset, is by far the best character—and probably the best performance here.

According to her bio on IMDB, director Shira Piven is the older sister of actor Jeremy.

(Music Box) C

http://www.welcometomemovie.com