Video Verdict: ‘Date Night,’ ‘Death at a Funeral,’ ‘The Joneses’

Tina Fey, left, and Steve Carell make a call for help in the comedic-thriller “Date Night.”

This week’s home video releases are dominated by comedies, including an offbeat art-house film with Demi Moore and David Duchovny and a mainstream, Hollywood feature starring Tina Fey and Steve Carell.

 

Date Night
2 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for sexual and crude content throughout, language, some violence and a drug reference
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Steve Carell and Tina Fey are funny people, so one might assume that any film built around them would be hilarious. And that is the danger of assumptions.

Despite the natural charms Carell and Fey possess, they aren’t miracle workers, and the script for “Date Night” just isn’t that funny. Part of the problem is that writer Josh Klausner and director Shawn Levy tried to make a movie that’s one part action-adventure and one-part comedy, and it doesn’t work on either front.

The setup has longtime married couple Phil and Claire Foster (Carell and Fey) worried that their relationship isn’t what it used to be. So, Phil decides to take Claire to an upscale Manhattan restaurant. When they can’t get a table on their own, they poach someone else’s reservation, leading to a classic case of mistaken identity. A couple of thugs show up demanding that the Fosters produce a USB drive loaded with sensitive material. They can’t, so they’re forced to escape and go on the run. Suddenly their married life is anything but routine.

Carell and Fey have reasonable chemistry, but they don’t have great jokes or action sequences to work with, so the movie plods along but never really gets off the ground.

Both the DVD and Blu-ray releases of “Date Night” feature an extended version of the film with never-before-seen footage. Extra features include a gag reel and behind the scenes bits.

 

 

Death at a Funeral
3½ stars
Rated R for language, drug content and some sexual humor
Sony
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

“Death at a Funeral” is a big-budget remake of director Frank Oz’s 2007 indie film by the same name. In general, remakes are a drag, but it’s tough to say anything bad about “Death at a Funeral” 2010 because it’s just as funny and well executed as Oz’s original. Plus it allows a host of big-name stars to ham it up on screen.

Was the remake necessary: No because Oz’s film is a comic gem. Still, “Funeral” 2010 is funny, and the fact that it’s top-loaded with celebrities means more people are going to see it than the original.

Chris Rock stars as Aaron, a kind-hearted, middle-aged man hoping to give his father a proper burial. Alas, fate is working against him. First, the funeral parlor delivers the wrong body. Then, his brother, Ryan (Martin Lawrence), informs him that he won’t be able to chip in for the cost of the funeral. It turns out Ryan is flat broke, despite the fact that he’s a successful novelist, a fact that everyone in the family holds over Aaron’s head. Toss in a heavily drugged funeral-goer (James Marsden), a grumpy uncle (Danny Glover) and a guest with unwelcome news (Peter Dinklage), and you’ve got the makings for the worst funeral ever.

It may be tough to laugh at death, but director Neil LaBute keeps the tone lighthearted, so there’s never any doubt that the movie is meant as a comic farce. The cast, which also includes Tracy Morgan, Luke Wilson, Regina Hall and Zoe Saldana, is terrific and adds a little Hollywood luster to the already-great story that Oz delivered in 2007. It’s also worth mentioning that Dinklage is reprising his role from the original film (he’s the only actor to do so), and he’s great.

It may not be polite to laugh at a funeral, but LaBute and company dare viewers to do just that.

DVD extras include a gag reel, behind the scenes featurettes and an audio commentary featuring LaBute and Rock.

 

 

The Joneses
3 stars
Rated R for language, some sexual content, teen drinking and drug use
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Anyone who thinks society has grown too commercial should enjoy “The Joneses,” a clever black comedy about sales shenanigans taken to the extreme.

David Duchovny and Demi Moore star as Steve and Kate Jones, a couple who – along with two youngsters (Amber Heard and Ben Hollingsworth) – get paid to convince friends and neighbors to buy the latest and greatest gadgets. Only thing is, they do it through deception. You see, Steve and Kate aren’t actually married. They’re employees of a high-tech marketing firm that expects them to increase the sales of everything from beverages to sports cars through “word of mouth” advertising.

It’s a sleazy job, but in the world that Steve and Kate occupy, someone has to do it, and the rewards are many. The fabricated family lives in a great home, drives great cars and has the best of everything … except, of course, real friends and true identities.

Writer-director Derrick Borte built the movie around a story by Randy T. Dinzler, and both men deserve credit for conjuring an idea that is fresh, funny and timely. Case in point: As American companies contribute to the country’s astounding unemployment rates, they continue to market their products with zest, often lamenting the fact that consumer confidence is low. If that can happen in the real world, what’s to stop a marketing firm from planting secret salespeople in every neighborhood?

While the script is clever, Borte and Dinzler don’t deserve all the credit for the success of “The Joneses.” Moore and Duchovny are outstanding in the lead roles. The fact that viewers can identify and often even sympathize with them is a testament to the strength of their performances. It’s not easy to like a liar, but Moore and Duchovny have crafted characters that feel like real human beings with reasons for their questionable choices. That and the great premise makes “The Joneses” a film worth keeping up with.

Blu-ray and DVD special features are limited to deleted scenes.

 

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Letters to God”: Faith-based story of a boy (Tanner Maguire) whose struggle with cancer prompts him to write daily letters to God. When his notes find their way into the hands of a mailman (Jeffrey Johnson) battling his own demons they have a surprising impact. The film was based, in part, on actual events.

“Helen”: Ashley Judd plays Helen Leonard, an accomplished professor who suffers from depression. Her mental illness sparks a friendship with a student who has bipolar disorder, and the women form a strong bond. Goran Visnjic (“ER”) and Lauren Lee Smith (“CSI”) also star.

“Triage”: Photojournalist Mark Walsh (Colin Farrell) and his colleague David (Jamie Sives) are assigned to cover the war in Kurdistan. After an event where Mark cheats death and David goes missing, Mark is sent home, but he is haunted by David’s disappearance. Written and directed by Danis Tanovic.

“Max Headroom” – The Complete Series: This 5-disc box set includes all 14 episodes of the 1980s TV series about a world where TV networks have virtually unlimited power and a self-aware computer-generated TV host could be mankind’s best hope for change. Max Frewer stars.

Terry Zwigoff documentaries on Criterion: The Criterion Collection is introducing newly restored releases of two Zwigoff films: “Louie Bluie” and “Crumb.” The preceding is about country blues musician Howard Armstrong. “Crumb” is about pop-culture artist Robert Crumb.

Looney Tunes shorts: Warner Home Video is releasing two discs packed with cartoons from their best-known characters: “Bugs Bunny: Hare Extraordinaire” and “Daffy Duck: Frustrated Fowl.” The best part: None of these shorts have been released on DVD before.

“The Penguins of Madagascar”: DreamWorks is releasing two discs loaded with episodes from the Nickelodeon TV series “The Penguins of Madagascar.” Each title – “Happy King Julien Day” and “New to the Zoo” – contains eight shorts.

“Tapped”: Award-winning documentary that looks at the big – perhaps even dangerous – business that bottled water has become. Directed by Stephanie Soechtig.

“Numb3rs” – The Final Season: This FBI crime drama, in which mathematics plays a key role in solving all cases, ran for six seasons on CBS. This four-disc set serves up the final 16 episodes. Rob Morrow, Alimi Ballard, Dylan Bruno, Sophina Brown, David Krumholtz, and Judd Hirsch star.

 

 

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at Forrest@ForrestHartman.com

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3 Comments

Filed under Video Verdict

3 responses to “Video Verdict: ‘Date Night,’ ‘Death at a Funeral,’ ‘The Joneses’

  1. smilingldsgirl

    I agree. Date Night was a huge disappointment. It had too much inappropriate content for the type of movie it was trying to be (I mistakenly took my 13 year old brother with me. Especially the last 20 minutes I was regretting that choice). The only parts that made me really laugh were the cameo scenes with Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis and James Franco.
    As for Tina Fey I think she was great on SNL but I’m not a fan of 30 Rock. I’ve watched it a number of times and it has never made me laugh. Go figure?

    Like

  2. Hi:

    Nice to hear from you again. I watched it with my wife and sister-in-law and I thought it was funny that my sister-in-law said, “I thought it was a comedy.”

    My response was that it is a comedy, just not a good one.

    I like Tina Fey but never got into watching “30 Rock.” Nothing against the show. It’s just that I spend most of my viewing time watching movies. No surprise there.

    Hope all is well with you and yours!

    Like

  3. This is my first time go to see at here and i am in fact pleassant to read everthing at
    one place.

    Like

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