Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Capsule reviews: "Date Night," "The Runaways"


directed by Shawn Levy
starring Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg, Taraji P. Henson, with appearances by James Franco, Mila Kunis, William Fichtner, Ray Liotta, Mark Ruffalo, Kristen Wiig, Leighton Meester, others

"Date Night" is an agreeable trifle that manages to entertain without being particularly clever. If you've seen the previews (and who hasn't?), you already know all you need to know about the plot: a nice middle-class couple, Phil and Claire Foster, try to spice up their scheduled weekly date night by stealing another couple's reservation at a chichi New York restaurant, only to find themselves mixed up with the Mob and in way over their heads. Great comedy this ain't - the plotting is lazy, and the jokes are mostly pretty bland - but enough of them land on target to score a fairly steady stream of laughs, while director Shawn Levy ("Night at the Museum") wisely keeps things moving along at a rapid clip (with the glaring exception of one overlong interlude in which the Fosters sit in a parked car and discuss their marital problems, notwithstanding the fact that they're being pursued by ruthless goons). It's also a pleasure to see Marky Mark do comedy again; he has a natural flair for it that he really should indulge more often. But of course what makes "Date Night" work is the inspired pairing of Carell and Fey - not just because of their dead-on comic timing and delivery, but because of their inherent likability and their surprising plausibility as a suburban middle-class couple. They seem like people any of us would know, only much, much funnier.



directed by Floria Sigismondi
starring Dakota Fanning, Kristen Stewart, Michael Shannon, others

Based on the true story of an all-girl teenage rock band that rose briefly to fame in the '70s, "The Runaways" never really justifies its own existence. (As a film, I mean, not as a band.) Less a chronicle than an episodic sketch of the band's rise and fall, it's only fitfully engaging and ends up feeling like a superficial treatment of a potentially fascinating subject. Not because it fails to convey every detail of the Runaways' history, but because it never fully captures just why they matter - other than as a launching pad for rock goddess Joan Jett.

The film focuses almost exclusively on just two of the band's members: Jett (Kristen Stewart), the lead guitarist, and lead singer Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning). Michael Shannon also turns up as the unscrupulous record producer who simultaneously motivates and exploits them, and who dangles Cherie as jailbait to reel in male fans. Fanning and Stewart are credible enough as the prototype rocker grrls, and the performance sequences progress convincingly from amateurish to unexpectedly riveting. Offstage, however, they prove rather less compelling. Director Floria Sigismondi's gauzy, impressionistic style, evoking the drug-induced haze that enveloped the band and eventually submerged Cherie, seems influenced by Sofia Coppola, but without the deep core of emotion that underlies the shimmering surfaces of Coppola's work. In fact, "The Runaways" seems oddly detached from its protagonists, despite Sigismondi's best efforts to depict the complex, tender bond between them as well as their individual characters. We learn, for example, that Cherie comes from a broken home, that addiction runs in her family, and that she has a loving but troubled relationship with her sister, yet she remains a cipher who fails to tap into the viewer's sympathies. Joan fares better in this regard, simply by virtue of being tougher, scrappier, and far more clear-sighted about what she wants. Yet the script on balance tilts its attention more towards Cherie (it is, after all, based on her memoir) without giving us any sense of what makes her tick. Inevitably, as she spins out of control, the film begins to drag. It recovers somewhat with a quietly bittersweet ending that briefly reunites a rising Joan and a chastened Cherie and pays tribute to their past relationship.