Date Night is the very special episode of 30 Rock that nobody needed to see. The one in which Michael Scott from The Office moves from Scranton to the big city and settles down with Liz Lemon, who isn't working now at the late-night TV show, for some reason.
I also can't explain why Michael and Liz changed their names to Phil and Claire Foster — even though it's still Steve Carell doing his wide-eyed, misplaced confidence in everything stupid he says, and Tina Fey feigning nerd when she's actually kind of hot, in a post-deb librarian sort of way.
I'm kidding about the 30 Rock thing. Date Night is really just another example of what happens when funny sitcom stars are lumped together in a movie, believing that laughter exponentially increases with screen size. The kind of movie that could just as easily star Matthew Perry and Jenna Elfman, or Eric McCormack and Sarah Jessica Parker, or Tim Allen and Kirstie Alley.
Wait a second. That last one did happen in For Richer or Poorer, a "comedy" even less fun than Date Night.
Phil and Claire are ordinary (i.e. dull) suburban marrieds with two kids and a weekly night out, eating potato skins at a family steak house. Learning that another couple (Kristen Wiig and Mark Ruffalo in cameos) are heading for divorce forces Phil and Claire to wonder if that could happen to them. Phil suggests dinner in Manhattan to rekindle the spark.
Without reservations, they seem out of luck until a server calls for the Tripplehorn party of two and nobody answers. Phil jumps the claim and everything goes well until a pair of tough guys (Common, Jimmi Simpson) mistake them for the Tripplehorns, threatening harm unless Phil and Claire hand over a flash drive belonging to a mobster (Ray Liotta, of course).
The couple escape but rather than race back to home sweet home, they decide to find the Tripplehorns, get the flash drive and deliver it to the gangster, saving their skins. That entails a series of encounters with seedy blackmailers (James Franco, Mila Kunis), kinky sex clubs (Fey and Carell sharing a pole dance is amusing) and a high-tech security expert (Mark Wahlberg) with a disconcerting aversion to shirts.
Even at 88 minutes (counting blooper reel end credits), screenwriter Josh Klausner can't muster enough jokes to prevent Date Night from feeling padded. That's too bad, since Carell and Fey are certainly attractive comedians with singular delivery styles. You wonder what they could accomplish with better material, like they enjoy Thursday nights on NBC. Once again proof that must-see TV doesn't guarantee can't-miss movies.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.