The new movie comedy “Moms’ Night Out” has Sean Astin (best known as Sam in the Lord of the Rings movies), Patricia Heaton (of TV’s “Everybody Loves Raymond”), Trace Atkins (a country music star), and Abbie Cobb (a young veteran who seems to have guest starred on half the current TV shows, from “NCIS” to “Longmire”). It has a proven plot concept, some ridiculous situations, and a central concern that many moviegoers will recognize.
You see, it is about the sort of stress that parents frequently feel. Central character Allyson (Sara Drew) has three kids under five. Her husband Sean (Astin) is sympathetic and helpful, but taking care of the kids is her primary occupation. And it it getting to her.
She is trying to write about her experiences in order to let off some pressure. But Allyson decides what she really needs is an evening with no parental responsibilities. She invites her old pal Izzy (who has twins and a husband, Marco, freaked out by costumes) and the wife of her church’s minister, Sondra (Heaton) to join her for an evening in heels and at a fancy restaurant.
But their escape is doomed. The restaurant takes their reservation for the wrong Saturday night—the argument over which one is “next Saturday” reminds one of “Sweet. What’s my tattoo say?” in “Dude, Where’s My Car?”). Then their minivan seems to be missing. And then they show up at the bowling alley (replete with black lights and featuring a disc jockey who displays video of bowler’s dancing) where Allyson’s sister Bridget (Cobb) is a waitress. Bridget is angry with Allyson for refusing to watch her baby during that work shift.
Things aren’t going that well on the father front, either. Sean has invited Marco and the twins and his own video-game buddy over to the house. But an accident there means they need to visit the hospital. So they need the minivan. They leave cell phone messages to explain that they are swapping cars with the girls, but Allyson has locked those cell phones in the van.
While the police are looking for the supposedly stolen van, the girls realize that Bridget’s baby’s father can’t be minding him, as Bridget has believed. He is in the restaurant. Where did he leave the baby? With Bones. Bones (Atkins) is a tattoo artist who was working that night at a tattoo parlor.
The four mothers hail a cab (driven by a limey played by Heaton’s husband, David Hunt) and rush over to the parlor only to be told that Bones left the kid with someone else. By the end of the film we have bikers, cops, and church-going families chasing across town in a sort of serial scavenger hunt for that kid. It reminded me a little of “Adventures in Babysitting,” but lacked the focus of that film.
Sometimes “Moms’ Night Out” is funny, and it got more laughs from its audience as it went along. Astin manages to make his re-setting of his own dislocated shoulder funny. Atkins got a laugh by saying he didn’t think the cops could book a baby. The tazing, now something of a staple in movies like this one, got laughs. So did the subject of Heaton’s tattoo.
But for a while it isn’t settled that this film is going to entertain. And one wonders why. There is something familiar about it which isn’t quite first rate. What is it?
The tip off comes when we see the minister for the first time. He is Alex Kendrick, a real life preacher and a leader in the southern indy Christian film-making movement of the last twenty years—he figured in “Fireproof” and “Courageous,” among other genre movies.
While “Mom’s Night Out” was made with greater skill by the Erwin brothers (“October Baby”), it still feels as if the production hasn’t quite reached Hollywood standards for construction. Oh the other hand, it is a little less worried about political correctness than are studio movies, and gives us a fairer picture of real life without remarking on its unwed mothers and interracial marriages.
Moreover, the story’s subject—the pressure parents feel—just isn’t the sort of topic a major studio film would be worried about, largely because those movies go after a younger audience, one that doesn’t have any kids yet. In terms of production values, “Mom’s Night Out” joins “Heaven Is For Real” as an indication that movies with some religious component can look and feel like the stock Hollywood stuff. That’s probably good news of a sort.