Though you wouldn’t guess it from the title, which seems to promise wild escapades and potential ribaldry, Moms’ Night Out is another “faith-based” movie, specifically designed for Christian audiences in search of more wholesome entertainment. Unlike such recent examples as God’s Not Dead and Heaven Is For Real, this lightweight comedy doesn’t aggressively foreground its message. Apart from a couple of brief, understated scenes—one character tells another about how faith has sustained her; a biker incongruously says, “I doubt the good Lord made a mistake givin’ your kiddos the mom he did”—religion isn’t openly mentioned, and the film never seems hectoring or preachy. Unfortunately, it never seems funny either, coming across like a sanitized remake of some raunchier laughfest.
The setup actually shows a faint glimmer of promise, establishing harried mom Allyson (Grey’s Anatomy’s Sarah Drew) as the sort of chronic worrywart who finds her kids making her breakfast and sees nothing but salmonella. In desperate need of some time to herself, Allyson sets up a girls’ night with best friend Izzy (Logan White) and older mentor Sondra (Patricia Heaton), which predictably goes haywire right from the outset, when the snooty hostess (Anjelah Johnson) at a ritzy restaurant can’t find their reservation. Whereas a secular comedy with this premise would surely involve sexual overtures and impromptu stripping, Moms’ Night Out derives all of its lame would-be gags from parenting, as the three protagonists go in search of the misplaced infant of Allyson’s sister-in-law (Abbie Cobb), as their stereotypically inept husbands (one played by Sean Astin) make a concurrent mess of things while babysitting.
There’s a certain amusing cognitive dissonance in seeing the general form of an R-rated comedy applied to material that barely nudges its way into PG territory. The jokes are just as broad and obvious: When a cop pulls a stun gun on the women, there’s no doubt that someone’s about to be accidentally zapped, and a pet parakeet is marked for death from the moment it’s introduced. But the sense of transgression that usually drives a movie like this is completely absent, replaced by frantic… responsibility. Drew gives Allyson an appealingly manic quality that might have worked well in a less carefully neutered context, but she ultimately can’t do much with a character who gets into trouble by doing the mature thing in every circumstance, and whose phony crisis of conscience involves not feeling as if her life is perfect, even though it superficially is. Moms’ Night Out is neither as sententious as one might fear nor as crass as one might hope. Mostly, it’s just bland.