The movies haven’t done her justice—but then, movies are the lesser medium for Fey and Carell. They’re the stars of two relatively sophisticated, media-savvy network sitcoms, yet their big-screen comedies are retro. The premise of Date Night is more than serviceable: The old North by Northwest mistaken-identity nightmare plunges a New Jersey couple into a netherworld of corrupt cops and gangsters. In three or four scenes, they get a rhythm going, but the editing is smash-and-bash. Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, the Pink Panther remake) is not a director who honors performers’ rhythms.
There are great TV comedians who aim high in movies. Ricky Gervais, who created the Office role that Carell Americanized, made the daringly irreverent The Invention of Lying. Will Ferrell hit dizzying slapstick heights in Step Brothers. I’m not sure Carell and Fey are, as clowns, in their (tip-top) league, but if they keep making tepid throwaways with directors like Levy, how will we—and they—ever know?