DATE NIGHT (2010)
Starring Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg, Taraji P. Henson, Jimmi Simpson, Common, Ray Liotta, James Franco, Mila Kunis, William Fichtner, Leighton Meester, Kristen Wiig, Mark Ruffalo, Bill Burr, Jonathan Morgan Heit, Savannah Paige Rae, J.B. Smoove, Nick Kroll, Olivia Munn, Jon Bernthal, Ari Graynor and Will.i.am.
Screenplay by Josh Klausner.
Directed by Shawn Levy.
Distributed by 20th Century Fox. 88 minutes. Rated PG-13.
The whole idea of innocents drawn into the craziness and danger of the big city has been done to death – going back even long before perhaps the ultimate example of the style, Neil Simon’s The Out-of-Towners (the original, not the weak 1999 remake).
Therefore it’s nice the Date Night takes this threadbare set-up and actually does some fun and interesting things with it.
Not that Date Night is all that original. Actually, it’s rather formula stuff, but it is pulled way above mediocrity with a perfectly cast comic duo as the film’s leads.
Steve Carell and Tina Fey are well known for their Thursday night NBC sitcoms (The Office and 30 Rock respectively) but their comic styles would not necessarily seem to mesh. He’s best at playing a sorta annoying, kinda obtuse, slightly buffoonish blowhard while she specializes in whip-smart, incredibly neurotic career women with sharp tongues.
Turns out to be a marriage made in comedy heaven.
Carell and Fey strap this movie on their backs and make it much better than it should be… just through sheer force of will and abundant talent. Carell and Fey are funnier than their characters are written, but their inspired lunacy and surprisingly potent comic chemistry make even the most clichéd situations here bubble with life.
Another reason this film works is that these characters are not completely naïfs and babes in the woods in big, bad Manhattan. Actually, Phil and Claire Foster were undoubtedly very hip and city-savvy before they fell into the middle-class-central-Jersey-parent rut. (In this way, the film is reminiscent of Martin Scorcese’s underrated comedy After Hours, where an uptown businessman finds himself stuck in a Dante’s inferno down in an alien night world of Greenwich Village and SoHo.)
However, they are deep in that rut as Date Night begins. Their lives have become a swirl of kids and car pools and work and breath strips. The only thing that Phil and Claire do for themselves is to have a weekly date night. Even that has settled into routine – a weekly trip to the same steak house where they eat the same meals and make the same small talk.
When two good friends (nice cameos by Mark Ruffalo and Kristin Wiig) tell the Fosters that they are getting a divorce because they had become more roommates than lovers, Phil and Claire decide to shake things up a bit.
This shake-up comes in the form of a romantic dinner in the hippest new restaurant in New York City. (The place is so snooty that the maitre d’ answers the phone “Claw. You’re Welcome.”) Of course they don’t have a reservation in a place that is booked months in advance, but in the spirit of adventure, Phil decides to claim the reservation of a couple that did not show.
This simple deception sets into motion a Hitchcock-ian wrong man situation where the boring Jersey couple suddenly finds themselves running for their lives from ruthless mobsters, hit men, rogue cops, small-time hoods, drug dealers and corrupt DA’s.
The set-up is familiar enough, but Carell and Fey sell the situation with hip asides and quirky slapstick (as well as a funny running gag about actress Jeanne Tripplehorn.)
The action pieces are good enough, but the quieter scenes are what really sell Date Night – like a run-in with a surprisingly familiar-seeming criminal couple (James Franco and Mila Kunis) and a defiantly shirtless security specialist (Mark Wahlberg, winking good-naturedly at his Marky Mark days).
By the time that Fey and Carell have to go in disguise as strippers who do the robot and the swim, you just have to give in to the absurdity of the plot and laugh along. Date Night is a hell of a lot funnier than it should be – and Carell and Fey really should work together again soon.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: April 10, 2010.