It’s certainly not a high bar to clear, but the faith based comedy Moms’ Night Out is at least better than it needs to be. That’s probably because the whole thing feels suspiciously like a somewhat promising, if a bit unoriginal and lacklustre secular idea that simply had some Jesus-y stuff crammed into it and any sense of true naughtiness removed from it. There are more laughs than I expected there would be, which is a plus. It’s still not a great film by any stretch, but considering the audience it’s aimed at this Mother’s Day weekend, they could do a heck of a lot worse. Heck, its cousin from the same studio, Heaven is for Real, is still out and that’s an infinitely worse and vastly more cynical enterprise.
TV vet Sarah Drew stars as Allyson, a fledgling mommy blogger and parental to a trio of kids that she raises essentially on her own because her husband Sean (Sean Astin) is chronically away on business. Realizing his wife’s burn out, Sean suggests Allyson have a girls night out with a few of her friends. What should be a low key trip to a restaurant and back home with her expectant best friend and fellow mother (Andrea Logan White) and the local pastor’s wife (Patricia Heaton, who also serves as a producer here) turns into a production and spectacle of outlandish proportions thanks to Allyson’s sister in law (Abbie Cobb), who has just found out her daughter has gone missing, and Sean and his male buddies proving to be terribly clueless care providers.
You can call this a sanitized version of something like After Hours, The Hangover, or Bridesmaids, but this effort from Andrew and Jon Erwin (who a couple of years ago directed the dreadfully heavy handed sleeper hit anti-abortion drama October Baby) works on a lot of the same principles despite lengthy, out of place digressions about the role of Jesus in the home and in the heart. It also suffers from the same kind of choppiness that films trying to knock off better material often suffer from. The film moves fast enough, but it’s really just lurching from set piece to set piece while forgetting about half of the film’s characters, subplots, and unresolved running gags in the process. It’s far from focused, filmed in off putting handheld style through most of it, and it seems to love repeating scenarios over and over again while expecting different results. There isn’t one, but THREE sequences involving clueless receptionists (one in a restaurant, one in a tattoo parlor that’s actually funny, and one in a police station) and two separate trips to an unfunny and pretty useless tangential character’s house. They all play out exactly as one would expect with little surprise, and the film seems to think it can trick the audience into thinking they are doing something original.
I can give the film credit for one thing, though. It’s hard to do clean comedy well, and there’s definitely an effort being made by the cast. Drew does a fine job playing an OCD hypochondriac trying hard to shut herself off long enough to have some fun. Astin is a good sport, despite not having a lot to do and he sells one of the film’s funniest scenes of physical comedy quite well. Country music superstar Trace Adkins gets the film’s big scene stealing role as the hulking Bones, a tattoo artist and badass biker with sage advice and a heart of gold. Really the only weak link in the cast is Robert Amaya as White’s scatterbrained and paranoid husband, who has a role so terribly written and stereotyped that all he can do with it is mug incessantly.
And while I strenuously disagree with the film’s ultimate message of piety and sacrificing for the benefit of family and the lord, I doubt someone of my disposition was supposed to really take anything serious away from this. It’s a film that assuredly won’t win any converts, but the choir will eat it up if they can wrap their heads around the film’s central contradiction that these characters are really terrible Christians. At any rate there are a handful of choice laughs for viewers of any denomination or disposition. The Mother’s Day release for this one is perfect because much like an animated film can pacify a small child for 90 minutes, Moms’ Night Out can easily do the same for an old fashioned mom who hasn’t seen a movie for the better part of a decade. To ignore that niche would be cynical of me, and at least the film succeeds in slow pitching itself at the proper audience.