Saturday, April 10, 2010

Forget Date Night. Stick to Thursday night.

Steve Carell and Tina Fey are two of our most beloved sitcom stars. Each is the central component of one the most critically acclaimed television comedies of this era (saying "sitcom" twice seemed mean), if not always the most popular.

But what do I think of them as movie actors?

Not much, unfortunately.

I used to like Carell pretty well. After all, this is the guy who did really funny work in Bruce Almighty, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and very capable dramatic work in Little Miss Sunshine. Since then, however, it's been a non-stop stinkfest for Mr. Carell, most notably Evan Almighty, Dan in Real Life and Get Smart.

I always had a problem with Fey's movie work. To put it more accurately, she may not have been the problem herself, but I never adored one of her movies. The word "never" sounds kind of funny when you are talking about essentially two movies, with only bit parts in others. Fey the performer may have been the best thing in Mean Girls, but I thought Mean Girls was only so-so, and for that she should be blamed, because Fey the writer wrote the script. And Baby Mama was an unmitigated disaster from the start, including and perhaps especially her performance. Though at least she bore no responsibility for writing that one.

Naturally, this leaves me without very much hope for Date Night. And the advertising has done a good job eradicating the remainder of my hope.

Let's start with that poster. The physical appearance of Fey and Carell conveys what their characters have in store, but it also sort of telegraphs the entire plot, doesn't it? That's a strange thing to say about a single image, even if it does speak a thousand words. But even if I didn't know that Fey and Carell would be chased by criminals in this movie, I think this poster would give it away. Plus, I really hate the font they chose for the title. It's bold and loud and artless. It kind of looks like a temporary font they jammed on there before settling on the real one. The whole thing is very stark, including the staged gray background. Which may be what they were going for, but it doesn't mean I have to like it.

And then there are the TV ads. "He's holding the gun sideways, that's the kill shot!" Maybe it's funny to someone, but not to me. And the scene where they're running along with a canoe on their heads? Oy. (Plus, I'm really surprised that Fey is allowed to say "whacking off" in a mainstream TV ad.)

It was an obvious pitch for a movie -- take the two biggest stars of NBC's Thursday night lineup and send them through a series of wacky misadventures. When Amy Poehler and Joel McHale weren't available, they went with Fey and Carell. (Ha ha.)

Seriously, though, it should have been a good idea, or at least it seems like it should. If, that is, you don't consider the comfort realms of these actors, and whether that allows them to do the things we love about them. Whether we love someone on television doesn't always translate to whether we love them in the movies. In fact, it's possible to love and hate different versions of the same performer. Unfortunately, Carell has been so awful in the movies lately that I've started to like him less on TV. I still love the TV Tina, but I distrust the movie one.

And there's nothing wrong with this. Not everyone is cut out to be a movie star. If you asked Tina Fey if she thought she were cut out to be a movie star, she would tell you "Hell no." In fact, everything about her persona gives you the impression she never really wanted anything more than to be a writer on Saturday Night Live. Of course, everyone realized she had on-screen talent, and more important, likeability, so that's been a good choice for her. But it seems like she'd be fine just being the star of 30 Rock. It almost feels like these movie choices were someone else's idea, maybe her agent's. Not hers.

There's nothing wrong with just being a TV star. David Caruso finally figured that out, and has managed to rehabilitate his career by becoming a mainstay on the popular CSI: Miami (which may be just about my least favorite show on television, but that's beside the point). And even if you didn't originate on television, you may find a more welcoming home there than in the movies. Take Fey's co-star Alec Baldwin.

So is Date Night definitely going to be terrible? No, not definitely. Is it probably going to be terrible? Yes.

Should Carell and Fey be happy with their day jobs?

Definitely, yes. Oh please, yes.

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