Faith-based films have become downright commonplace this year. But faith-based comedies? Comedies that work?
That’s still a very short historical list — the George Burns blockbuster “Oh, God” and Andy Griffith’s “Angel in My Pocket” are the only two to come to mind.
“Moms’ Night Out” doesn’t join their ranks. A PG-rated romp that never romps, it lacks the jokes, sight gags, pacing and performances that are the stuff laughs are made of.
A funny movie doesn’t have to leave you with a “Hangover” to give you the giggles. But when you’re sending three mothers out for an “epic” night on the town, and you’re abstaining from alcohol, profanity and jokes about sex, you’d better make sure that the gags you do include are killer and that you have a cast that can land those laughs.
Sarah Drew plays Ally, a stressed-out mother of three preschool-age tykes, a “mommy blogger” who brags online about being “a clean freak” who can “actually FEEL the house getting dirty,” but whose reality doesn’t measure up to that.
Her house is a wreck, her husband (Sean Astin) is always traveling and the kids are barely under control. And every so often, she loses it.
She’s unhappy, so her husband urges her to take a night for herself. She talks her mother-of-two pal Izzy (Logan White) and, oddly, that icon of motherly virtue, her pastor’s wife (Patricia Heaton), into a girls night out “to remember.”
Izzy’s simpering, helpless husband (Robert Amaya) is lost without her calling the shots. Ally’s husband has a regular Saturday night video game date with an irresponsible, kid-hating pal (Kevin Downes, amusing). And Sondra, the preacher’s wife, is fending off a full-fledged revolt from her rebellious teenage daughter (Sammi Hanratty), who is threatening to sneak out while Mom’s away.
This could get interesting — “Adventures in Babysitting” interesting. Except it doesn’t.
As the night runs from losing their reservation at a pretentious restaurant to losing their phones to losing their minivan to losing a baby and their husbands losing their minds, overwhelmed by simple child care, “Moms’ Night Out” sets itself up for laughs that it rarely delivers.
For 45 minutes, the writing/directing Erwin brothers (“October Baby,” the abortion drama, was theirs) can’t manage so much as a smile, mainly because of the blandness of their leading lady. Drew is good at whiny, not good at amusingly whiny.
Then we hit the tattoo parlor and “Moms’ Night Out” starts to find its funny bone. Christian singer Manwell Reyes is hilarious as a goofball receptionist, and country singer Trace Adkins kills as a brassy, no-nonsense biker-tattoo artist named Bones. Bones, who has a hint of hell-raiser about him, thinks he knows the straight-laced Sondra from somewhere.
With missed communications, a lost parakeet and a lot of scenes of manic women, shrieking at cops, a stoner and a British cabbie (Heaton’s husband, producer David Hunt), “Moms’ Night Out” gets up a head of steam, for a few minutes anyway.
The very best gag suggests a more promising direction the film might have taken. Heaton’s Sondra panics when a pile of empty beer bottles is left on their table at a bowling alley. She can’t have her parishioners thinking she drinks. A whole night of a “perfect” preacher’s wife/mom trying to protect her reputation might have been funny. Especially with Bones along for the ride.
A few simple sermonettes about motherhood and parenting work. But the Erwins learn, the hard way, that “Sermonizing is easy, comedy is hard.”