'First Date' Struggles to Make the Case for a Second Chance

First dates can be awkward, especially when they involve dirty cops, stolen cocaine, and guys named Chet.

Young love in First Date
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First dates can be awkward, and that’s even when they don’t involve dirty cops, a car filled with cocaine, and trigger-happy thugs wanting to cash in on the profitable powder. These are the ingredients that make up the first date at the center of First Date, but it’s to the film’s detriment as they’re ultimately the least interesting elements here.

Mike (Tyson Brown) is a quiet kid who’s been crushing on his neighbor Kelsey (Shelby Duclos) for years. He’s done nothing about it, though, but after some incessant nagging from his best friend Mike makes a move — and she says yes. With just a couple hours before he’s due to pick her up he heads out to buy a used car from a shady dude, and his troubles start immediately. The car was previously stolen, it’s filled with someone else’s drugs, and in addition to a pair of abusive cops giving him grief Mike now has all manner of bad guys on his tail. Can he salvage the night, avoid being shot along the way, and still squeeze in a date with Kelsey? Maybe.

First Date is the feature debut from writers/directors Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp, and while it shows promise on the directing front it needed more work on the writing. Mike’s journey is captured with energy to spare, but from his borderline frustrating character to the motley ensemble behind the incoming shenanigans, the film’s script feels underbaked and too reliant on aping similar fare.

Mike’s arc from sheltered mouse to stand-up guy is a familiar one for a reason as underdogs are appealing characters, but viewers may struggle to get behind this particular example. He’s entirely too passive for far too long, both in action and personality, and it forces the film to find more engaging charisma elsewhere. By the time he does come alive it’s less than convincing as it feels determined more by third act necessity than actual character growth. Brown comes alive at times, but the character holds him back throughout and gives him little room to break free of that restraint.

The assorted band of sordid villains in First Date feel even more onenote and at times cartoonish, and while the numerous performances are fine none of them manage to feel like authentic characters. Instead, they’re “characters” dropped in as roadblocks with faces and quirky personalities straight out of the Coen Brothers/Tarantino playbooks. Their threat level drops to nil as they banter and bicker about their book club — not a euphemism, an actual book club — and the result are antagonists who feel like they’re speaking first draft dialogue.

It’s a shame as the time spent with Mike and Kelsey finds strength in the pairing of his nervousness and her confidence, and the constant interference of wacky plot antics just serves to muffle those highlights. The hopeful couple seems the most real apart from all of the nonsense, but Crosby and Knapp feel uncomfortable without all of the genre dressing working to hold viewer attention. They have the chops and interest in developing characters, but they never let themselves indulge.

Curiously, the closest they come is with a throwaway character named Chet (Brandon Kraus). He’s a handsome, popular jock who Mike sees as his nemesis early on in his affection for Kelsey, but when she relents and gives him the time of day — due to Mike’s inability to arrive on time or even call the poor girl — he’s revealed to be a bit more than the cliche he appeared to be. It’s an odd touch as it adds nothing to First Date‘s key relationship or narrative, but it’s a shame the film doesn’t indulge itself with similar beats elsewhere.

This all reads like negative criticism, but in actuality it’s more a lack of positive thoughts. Splitting hairs, perhaps, but as it stands First Date offers a generic riff on the familiar. It’s not bad, and while it’s a tad too long for the content it’s never dull either. It instead just feels underbaked and in need of another rewrite or three. As it stands, though, if it were an actual first date it’s difficult to imagine either party returning for more.

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