Date Night * * *

Genre: Action Comedy

Director:  Shawn Levy

Writers: Josh Klausner

Cast: Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg, Taraji P. Henson, Jimmi Simpson, Common, William Fichtner

Running Length: 98 minutes

Synopsis: Phil and Claire Foster (Steve Carell and Tina Fey) are a happily married couple, but like so many couples in real life, the romance in their lives have given way to work and parenting duties. They schedule occasional “date nights” but even that has become rather routine. On one such date night, Phil decides to break out of the mould and go for something different – he takes Claire to a trendy new Manhattan restaurant, but because they had no reservations made, he also steals the table of “the Tripplehorns”, who seem to have skipped their dinner. However, it soon becomes apparent why – a pair of thugs, Armstrong (Jimmi Simpson) and Collins (Common) arrives at the restaurant to retrieve an item from the Fosters, which obviously is not in their possession. So begins a manic night across town where the Fosters have to use all their resources to outwit the thugs, obtain the item from the real Tripplehorns (James Franco and Mila Kunis), and maybe even strike a deal with the current mob boss (Ray Liotta). The Fosters also seek help from a laid-back ex-military secret ops guy called Holbrooke (Mark Wahlberg) who seems to have an aversion to wearing shirts and have somewhat of a history with Claire.

Review: Date Night is a very good example of how a movie can work without a good script – the plot for the film ranks about 9.5 on the cliché scale, but Steve Carell and Tina Fey perform so well in their roles that all is forgiven. Both are great comedians and are already proven veterans on both the small and big screen, but together their chemistry and comic timing are truly impeccable and a force to be reckoned with. The action sequences may be a little pedestrian, and (of course) not every joke works, but when Date Night works, it does so very well, and makes for a very entertaining film that doesn’t outlive its welcome.

Just like a romcom, an action comedy film like Date Night is very dependent on the chemistry between the lead characters, and the Steve Carell and Tina Fey pairing is simply one of the best I have seen this year. They are totally believable in their roles – many audience members will see a little (or a lot) of themselves in the Fosters, which makes the emotional connection stronger. There’s a great little scene in between the action where the couple stop and contemplate the state of their marriage, and it’s this scene that really sealed the deal for me. Of course, most of what they go through is nothing short of unbelievable, but at least the audience has a vested interest in seeing them triumph.

There are a great lot of laughs to be had in Date Night, most of them delivered with impeccable comic timing by Carell and Fey. Although both actors are not known for physical comedy, there is a scene involving the duo late in the film that shows that they can rise to that particular challenge. In the outtakes featured during the end credits (stay till the end to catch them all), it’s clear to see that Shawn Levy had given the two actors a lot of free play, and even the improvs that didn’t make the final cut are quite hilarious.

Credit also goes to the supporting cast for their comedic efforts, in particular James Franco and Mila Kunis for a very memorable scene as the real Tripplehorns, and Mark Wahlberg for being game enough to do nothing much but bare his (still very fit) upper torso. Although the additional “hook” in an action comedy is ostensibly the action sequences, these scenes in Date Night are actually the weakest in the show. Shawn Levy is not the most adept at directing action set-pieces, and it shows. However, such transgressions are forgivable given the strength of the lead pairing, and Date Night makes for an excellent date night movie.

Rating:  * * * (out of four stars)


Clash of the Titans * * 1/2

Genre: Fantasy

Director:  Louis Leterrier

Writers: Travis Beacham, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, based on the 1981 screenplay of the same name by Beverley Cross

Cast: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Jason Flemyng, Gemma Arterton 

Running Length: 103 minutes

Synopsis: A retelling of the Greek tale of Perseus and a pseudo-remake of the original 1981 film Clash of the Titans, this remake 29 years later stars Sam Worthington as Perseus, demi-god son of Zeus (Liam Neeson). Like many heroes, he has to embark on a ten-day journey wrought with danger in order to save the beautiful Princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) from being sacrificed to the Kraken, a terrible sea monster. Along the way he meets both friend and foe, and in particular has to make a dangerous journey to the Underworld to obtain the head of Medusa to subdue the Kraken.

Review: Let’s get this out of the way, right away. DO NOT watch Clash of the Titans in 3D unless you’re feeling generous and want to contribute extra dollars to the cinema operators’ bottom line for a diminished experience. If Avatar is the reason 3D will flourish, “3D” shows like Clash of the Titans will be the reason that cinemagoers will eventually tire of the money grab and start going back to 2D. I spent 10 minutes in Clash of the Titans without my 3D glasses on and it made virtually no difference whatsoever, and in all seriousness the most 3D aspect of the film were the Chinese subtitles. It’s retrofitted 3D and done in a very poor manner, to the point that it detracts from the experience.

Having said that, take away the 3D element and this remake of Clash of the Titans is perfectly serviceable as a pre-summer action blockbuster. Although it takes a while to get started, once the action begins the film’s actually pretty entertaining. Many of us will probably not compare this remake favourably with the Ray Harryhausen original for sentimental, nostalgic reasons, but it cannot be denied that the 2010 version works slightly better because of the improved visuals and a lower cheesiness level.

The CGI found in Clash of the Titans is mostly top-notch, and in particular the Scorpiochs and Medusa are very well-rendered and almost believable – well as much as monsters can look believable. However, certain aspects don’t work that well, including the terribly cheesy “glowing armour” that the Gods wear. It almost feels like a snippet from the old Superman movies, with all the soft focus and dreamy lighting attempting perhaps to make Olympus look more ethereal. It does not work in the slightest.

Sam Worthington basically reprises his role from Avatar, even sporting a similar buzz cut, but here in Clash of the Titans he is never given a chance to really act. In fact, despite the presence of esteemed actors like Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes (as Hades), the acting is weak across the board and characters never become (pardon the expression) three dimensional. This is particularly apparent in the superfluous romantic subplot between Perseus and Io (Gemma Arterton), which is so poorly developed that one wonders why Leterrier even chose to leave it in the film.

It’s likely that audiences who watch Clash of the Titans in 2D (like it was meant to be watched) would be more charitable towards the film, but for those who watch it in “3D” may not feel so generous. In 2D, the movie is generally entertaining and a tolerable remake of the original film. In 3D, all the flaws become more pronounced – blurry action sequences, dim visuals, eye-watering (in a bad way)3D implementation – and coupled with a higher-priced ticket, makes for a very negative viewing experience.

Rating:  * * ½ (out of four stars)