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MOVIE REVIEW: Bad romance

Photo by Photo Credit: Myles Aronowitz

Photo by Photo Credit: Myles Aronowitz

Date Night (PG-13)

One star out of four

Beginning their careers as members of Chicago's "Second City" comedy troupe in the '90s, Steve Carell and Tina Fey have followed nearly identical career paths on their way to stardom. Although he's made a few more movies than she has, both are primarily known for their work as the lead characters in two current TV sitcoms.

Neither Fey's "30 Rock" or Carell's "The Office" are ratings giants but have remained on the air mostly because both have won multiple awards and earn parent company NBC some much-desired prestige and street credibility. Even though both performers are well known and immensely talented, their humor is far from mainstream and certainly not suited for such an intellectually inert, low-aspiring romantic comedy like "Date Night."

Accountant Phil (Carell) and real-estate agent Claire (Fey) Foster are a 40-something couple going through the same things as many married people with young children. They're perpetually tired, in a sexual rut and like millions of others, make it a point to reward each other with a weekly "date night."

Usually, this means a quiet dinner at a neighborhood north New Jersey eatery and in bed by 10. Recognizing that even this has grown routine, Phil insists they splurge by going to a trendy and overpriced Manhattan restaurant operated by a snooty staff and frequented by celebrities.

In the movie's sole sliver of original thought, the Fosters bluff their way into getting a table by assuming the identity of a pair of no-shows and soon find themselves involved in a case of mistaken identity that might cost them their lives.

Mixing light comedy with perilous action/adventure is nothing new but does require a deft touch and steady hand -- qualities not shared by either director Shawn Levy ("Cheaper by the Dozen," "The Pink Panther," "Night at the Museum" and its sequel) or screenwriter Josh Klausner (the most recent and next installments of "Shrek"). Subtlety and finesse are neither man's strong suit and every one of their characters acts in a predictable manner with each scene played out with lumbering clumsiness.

Two bad cops wear all black clothing while the two good ones wear lighter-colored suits. The local Mafioso (Ray Liotta) sits alone in an Italian restaurant eating pasta and drinking red wine. A district attorney (William Fitchner) uses a broom as a prop to "sweep away" crime but in a reality is a depraved sex-addict. For the life of him, a buff private detective (Mark Wahlberg) can't bring himself to ever put on a shirt -- something that infuriates Phil, but excites Claire to no end. Even the normally innovative James Franco and Mila Kunis are called on to play cookie-cutter white trash during their single scene.

Loud, brash and mostly pointless chase scenes or gunfights with weapons that never run out of bullets are punctuated with unimaginative profanity and the odd overuse of a word identifying a female body part used as a reoccurring insult. The filmmakers don't seem intent on catering to women or adult couples as much as they do to snickering eighth-grade boys and there is not a single funny line of dialogue found in the entire movie.

Throughout it all, Carell and Fey are called on to do some pretty silly stuff while uttering things even they must have known would land with a thud, yet they establish an immediate and constant chemistry. There's no telling how great they could be together if starring in a satire or a black comedy written by Fey that could fully exploit their shared crack timing and deadpan deliveries.

Both Fey and Carell (more so her than him) are far above this kind of swill and both need to re-examine their relationships with their respective agents. This movie is one of the worst wastes of collective talent in a long, long time. (Fox)