A shrill feature-length sitcom for the faith-based family values crowd, if nowhere near as good as that sounds.
There’s nothing wrong with “Moms’ Night Out” that couldn’t be fixed by a massive rewrite, preferably one that involves a lobotomy for the main character. Capturing the chaos that ensues when three overworked mothers decide to take a breather, this dismally unfunny comedy features barely a single instance of what most adults would recognize as human behavior — a curious failure for a movie aiming to resonate with all the frazzled mothers and fathers in the audience. Basically a shrill feature-length sitcom for the faith-based family-values crowd, if nowhere near as good as that sounds, Sony/TriStar’s Mother’s Day-timed release could get some mileage out of its high-profile Christian backers (namely co-star Patricia Heaton) but won’t exactly follow in the blessed B.O. footsteps of “Heaven Is for Real” and “God’s Not Dead.”
With her husband, Sean (Sean Astin), frequently away on business, Allyson (Sarah Drew), a very high-strung, churchgoing mother of three, can’t remember the last time she experienced a moment’s peace and quiet. After a particularly taxing Mother’s Day full of the kids’ usual shenanigans (coloring on the walls, attempting an ill-advised cooking experiment, getting toilet seats stuck to their heads, etc.), Ally decides she needs a break from all the craziness, and invites two other harried moms — her not-so-bright friend Izzy (Andrea Logan White) and pastor’s wife Sondra (Heaton) — to join her for a rare Saturday evening on the town.
In the script’s highly reductive view of the sexes, neither Sean nor Izzy’s husband (Robert Amaya) can handle the kids for more than five minutes, and before long, the night has gone foolishly, ridiculously haywire. While the dads run around chasing wayward pet birds and attending to random medical emergencies, the moms find themselves first turned away from their chosen restaurant by a bitchy hostess (Anjelah Johnson, who was much funnier as rude fast-food employee Bon Qui Qui on “Mad TV”), then forced to help out another mom in distress, Ally’s sister-in-law (Abbie Cobb), who learns that her ex-boyfriend (Harry Shum Jr., “Glee”) has left their toddler son at a tattoo parlor. Various idiotic hijinks ensue, involving a British-accented cab driver (David Hunt, Heaton’s husband and fellow exec producer) and a motorcycle-gang leader named Bones (Trace Adkins), plus a lengthy car chase and even a brief stint in jail for our much-hassled heroines.
Sibling filmmakers Andrew and Jonathan Erwin, who previously collaborated on the 2011 anti-abortion melodrama “October Baby,” are clearly not overly concerned with subtlety. Amid all the parental psychodrama and strained slapstick — set to a relentless, droning soundtrack that veers from Ingrid Michaelson to “Gangnam Style” — the directors, working from a screenplay by Jonathan Erwin and Andrea Nasfell, squeeze in a few comforting homiletic nuggets about the hard-won joys and rewards of child rearing. These come mostly courtesy of the sensible, smart-talking Sondra, not exactly a stretch for Heaton (“The Middle,” “Everybody Loves Raymond”), although Bones turns out to be quite the biker theologian: “I doubt the Good Lord made a mistake giving your kids the mama he did,” he intones solemnly, cueing Ally to suddenly find herself on the brink of tears.
It might have been a nice moment, except that Ally finds herself on said teary brink with alarming frequency in “Moms’ Night Out.” Drew is an appealing actress best known for her work on “Grey’s Anatomy,” a series in which she once came face-to-face with a hospital shooter and narrowly escaped with her life; the Erwin brothers appear to have watched that scene and directed the actress to sustain that same pitch of life-and-death hysteria for 98 minutes, reacting to even the mildest setback with a full-blown panic attack, and inflating every nervous twitch and gasp of horror into some sort of freakshow parody of manic-depressive motherhood. It’s an insufferable performance, and as hectic and overbearing as full-time parenting can be, it’s the rare mom indeed who will see much of herself in this hyper-exaggerated caricature.
As the characters doing their utmost to coax Ally off the ledge at any minute, Heaton and Astin come off best in a cast of faces largely familiar from TV. The film was shot in Birmingham, Ala., though apart from a few Southern accents and token black characters, the low-budget production has little in the way of local atmosphere.