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'Date Night' a halfhearted comedy

PLOT

An identity mix-up lands a dull married couple in a heap of trouble.

BOTTOM LINE

Fey and Carell are surprisingly unimpressive in this halfhearted comedy.

CAST

Tina Fey, Steve Carell, Ray Liotta, Common.

LENGTH

1:27

Steve Carell, Tina Fey and a budget - what more could you need to make a comedy?

Creativity and inspiration might have helped. But in "Date Night," director Shawn Levy (the "Night at the Museum" franchise) and screenwriter Josh Klausner have merely sketched out a slim premise and padded it with old jokes and soft action. This threadbare film somehow makes a sturdy enough noose to choke the life out of its stars.

Carell and Fey are Phil and Claire Foster, whose exhausting lives - dual income, dual child - have grown so dull that even their weekly date night (at a depressing New Jersey tavern) feels like a chore. They prefer sleep to sex, though neither wants to admit it. "I can rally," Claire says, thoroughly unconvincing.

When their married neighbors split up, Phil hears a warning. He whisks Claire to a trendy Manhattan restaurant and impulsively steals the table of a no-show party. The evening goes swimmingly - until two gunsels (Jimmi Simpson and rapper Common) haul the tipsy couple into an alley in a case of mistaken identity.

Fey and Carell, both character-driven comedians, are initially endearing, but they seem less comfortable with the movie's halfhearted slapstick. Their chemistry never quite ignites, and their improvised lines - usually their strong suit - mostly fall flat.

Other actors show up in well-worn roles: James Franco as a drug dealer, an uncredited Ray Liotta as a mob boss, Mark Wahlberg as a shirtless hunk. Talk about a dull routine. If only the filmmakers had followed the Fosters' example: A little effort might have saved things.

Back story: Like an old married couple

Steve Carell says his off-screen relationship with Tina Fey is so solid that he's reminded of his own wife, Nancy.

"She's a lot like Tina, you know, really smart and really funny. We're not wacky all the time, but we enjoy each other's sense of humor, and I always will go to her as a barometer for what might work and what might not," Carell told ABCNews.com. " came pretty naturally. I've been a fan of hers for a while and . . . we just sort of clicked with each other and became friends."

Like an old married couple, Carell and Fey repeat each other's one-liners. After Carell told reporters earlier this week at "Date Night's" Manhattan premiere that his best date night was "the Oscars this year," Fey told ABCNews.com, "A lot of times Steve and I have this comment that the only time we have a fancy date with our spouses is if we go to the Oscars."

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