Though he handily gets by on screen thanks to his effortless charm, Stanley Tucci is probably a better director than he is an actor. His first two features behind the camera, Big Night and The Impostors, established him as a filmmaker with a deft touch for modern screwball comedy. His fourth, Blind Date, tries to take that gift for crisp, punchy dialogue that sounds as if it was made up on the spot (by Tucci and co-star Patricia Clarkson) and use it as the foundation for a queasy tragicomedy. But Tucci never effectively translates the characters’ rapport into a convincing tragedy and only winds up destroying the breezy, lighter-than-air atmosphere that made his best films so good in the first place.
Tucci and Clarkson play Don and Janna, a loveless couple that try to rekindle the last spark of romance in their ice-cold marriage through role-playing. They place personal ads in the paper and try to get back into each other’s good graces by pretending to be other people. Their dates always end on a sour note though, because we soon find out—spoiler alert—that they accidentally killed their daughter in a car accident, a sticking point that they return to over and over because they can’t seem to address it in any other way. That revelation is precipitously bashed into our heads by the dead girl herself, who infrequently provides voiceover narration. Tucci wants us to know the film’s dirty little secret so badly that he doesn’t care that his kiddie corpse is dishing out the film’s tragic crux with all the solemnity of a dead baby joke.
Similarly, Tucci has such a disdain for subtlety that he doesn’t even allow the viewer to suss out for themselves what made-up identities Don and Janna have assumed in each encounter. Instead, each of their dates is prefaced by the personal ad that inspired it, as if knowing what roles they’re playing was vital to appreciating any given scene’s situational humor. That kind of brusque zeal is particularly upsetting considering what a terrific screen couple Tucci and Clarkson make. They swap lines with effortless camaraderie but neither one can make the film’s ponderously bristling tragic undertones meaningful.