Date NightOrange lightDirector Shawn Levy rewinds the premise of North by Northwest and plays it for laughs in Date Night, an on-the-run rom com about a daggy married couple who become unwittingly embroiled in a high profile blackmail racket. Like Hitchcock’s seminal cross country crime caper, the plot kicks off at a restaurant with a case of mistaken identity and branches out into an episodic plotline involving high level dodgy dealings and lots of running, sweating and reiterations of “I didn’t do it.”

Hoping to rekindle some passion in their congenial but ho-hum relationship, Phil (Steve Carrell) and Claire (Tina Fey) head to a trendy downtown restaurant and lie about their names in order to get a table. After a swanky meal and a nice glass of red a couple of no-guff gangsters escort them outside, hold a gun to their heads and demand to know the whereabouts of an apparently incriminating flash drive. Panicked, Phil lies again and promises to lead the goons to it. Writer Josh Klausner’s screwy story bumbles along from there, with the two leads trapped in a plot that incorporates a local mobster, a popular politician and a couple of crooked cops.

The baddies chase them across the city as Phil and Claire flounder like fish drowning in oxygen. The action isn’t as slapstick as you may expect and the story not altogether implausible, at least for the setup. The pace however is irritatingly inconsistent, with stretches of action periodically slowing down to moments in which we’re stuck listening to the characters bitch about their marriage and reiterate various ways of saying “I wanna go home.”

This is where the chemistry between Carrell (from TV’s The Office) and Fey (TV’s 30 Rock) needed to snap and crackle. If the two small screen stars had managed to take the audience for a tango, seducing us into pushing aside the film’s discordant plotline, Date Night might have worked better. But they never quite get there; individually the two performers are good enough but together their chemistry is more than a little flat, often feeling as rundown and commonplace as their characters’ marriage.

Like most of the film’s jokes, the dancing in a strip club scene is amusing rather than funny, one of many situational gags in an episodic plotline. Throughout the running time there are a reasonable quote of giggles but no belly-ups. The plot resolution is poor – one of those conclusions that largely takes place out of the characters’ hands – but by then viewers probably won’t care much about narrative sophistication.

Date Night has some charm but audience-wise it’s clearly suited for a night in rather than out: the movie will probably generate a warmer response on DVD. This is in sync with the appeal of its two stars, who fare better on the small screen.

Date Night’s Australian theatrical release date: April 8, 2010