Sep 28, 2010

Movie Review: Date Night

Steve Carell and Tina Fey combine talents to deliver one of the more entertaining comedies of 2010 with Date Night, directed by Shawn Levy (the Night at the Museum movies). There just hasn't been that much to laugh at (at least intentionally) in theaters this year, so it's refreshing to finally get a chance to see something that, for the most part, delivers on its promises - and isn't in 3-D.

Date Night is a fast-paced action comedy featuring two of TV's funniest people together for the first time on the big screen. Carell and Fey have great chemistry, and their big, disastrous night out as a couple is believable and relatable. Well, not the part about being chased by goons with guns while trying to drive a borrowed sports car attached to a taxi through the streets of New York. That only happens in movies. But just trying to recapture some of that relationship spark, trying to get out of a rut and rediscover why you're with your partner - that's what makes Date Night so relatable, enjoyable, and funny.

The Story
Phil (Carell) and Claire (Fey) lead busy lives, work keeps them hopping, and when they're not dealing with clients, they're pulling mom and dad duty at 5:30am for their full-of-energy kids. They go out on special 'date nights' all alone to the local family friendly steak joint where the waiter knows them by name, and that's about as exciting as their social life away from the children gets. But after friends of theirs share the bad news that their marriage is breaking up, Phil and Claire start to feel a little worried about how their own marriage has become less about their relationship as a couple, and more about work and parenting obligations.

"James Franco and Mila Kunis in Date Night photo"

James Franco and Mila Kunis in 'Date Night.'
© 20th Century Fox
Deciding the best way to spice up things is to head to Manhattan to a swanky restaurant, the Fosters show up without a reservation only to be dissed and then ignored by the maitre d'. Hanging out in the bar on the off-chance a table is freed up, Phil and Claire hear a reservation being called out for the Tripplehorns, with no one responding. They decide to act like they're the Tripplehorns and 'steal' the reservation. It seems like an innocent enough fib, but oh boy, does it lead to trouble aplenty.

Escorted from the restaurant by two thugs, Phil and Claire soon find themselves on the wrong end of a gun - and it's turned sideways. Killshot! The thugs (played by Common and Jimmi Simpson) demand a computer flash drive that the Tripplehorns are blackmailing a mob boss (Ray Liotta) with. Obviously the Fosters don't have it, but the hoodlums don't believe their 'we stole someone else's dinner reservation' story. This case of mistaken identity escalates into a full-on chase through Central Park and the streets of New York at night, with only their wits - no cell phones, no weapons, nothing to help them fight back - keeping them a step ahead of the bad guys. Oh, and they do have a little assistance from a shirtless, totally ripped Mark Wahlberg as a security/computer expert who once upon a time hired Claire as his realtor.

The Acting
Carell and Fey bring 'must-see' comedy from TV to the big screen with Date Night, which isn't nearly as sharply written as either The Office or 30 Rock but works nonetheless. Carell proved he can handle action comedies with Get Smart, but Fey's never been put to the test quite like this before. And, surprisingly, when she gets into 'kick butt and take no prisoners' mode, Fey's convincingly tough. I never realized she had that in her.

Director Shawn Levy packed the supporting cast with familiar faces, from Mark Wahlberg as the scene-stealing hunky security expert with a hot Russian girlfriend who thinks Carell and Fey have arrived for sex, to James Franco and Mila Kunis as the real Tripplehorns, to Ray Liotta as the mob boss everyone's terrified of, and William Fichtner as the DA who wants to sweep his city clean of crime. Some of the supporting players, like Mark Ruffalo and Kristen Wiig, are in and out too quickly (pretty much just drive-by cameos), but this is after all Carell and Fey's show, and they carry the load admirably enough.

"Tina Fey, Steve Carell and Mark Wahlberg in Date Night photo"

Tina Fey, Steve Carell and Mark Wahlberg in 'Date Night.'
© 20th Century Fox
The Bottom Line
I wasn't sure just how well Date Night would work given the fact trailers most often show off the best scenes. And if what was showcased in the trailer was the best bits from Date Night, then I wasn't holding out much hope for the actual film. But Date Night turned out to be an entertaining, quirky comedy with plenty of physical comedy done by two actors unafraid to look ridiculous. And, thankfully, the trailer didn't represent the film's funniest moments by a long shot.

The only time Date Night lags is when it tries to get all serious about the Fosters' relationship issues. Other than that, the movie really flows well. And it capitalizes on Carell and Fey's ability to improv* and spout one-liners that, had they been uttered by less talented comedians, wouldn't have sounded so spontaneous and funny.

Date Night may use a tried and true formula - mistaken identity causes chaos in the lives of everyday folks - but with Carell and Fey (and Josh Klausner's script), it feels fresh. With car crashes and shootouts, and for the women eye candy in the form of Mark Wahlberg, Date Night should appeal to both sexes equally. It's got a little something for everyone and it's actually perfect for a date night out.

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