Movie Review: Date Night
By Matthew Huntley
April 15, 2010
Date Night must have been a blast to make, which explains why it’s also a blast to watch. It plays less like a movie and more like an extended blooper reel, or perhaps a jolly behind-the-scenes featurette. In fact, we care more about the making of the movie than the movie itself, which is why we’re not bothered by its absurd situations, convenient plot devices or tidy wrap-up. It works because we feel like we’re in on the joke instead of the butt of it. With light-hearted farce such as this, we only ask for a good time, and that’s what it delivers.
Steve Carell and Tina Fey play their usual screen selves as Phil and Claire Foster, a tired married couple from New Jersey. He’s an accountant, she’s a realtor. For Phil and Claire, life has become all about their two kids and “what needs to be done next week.” They have one of those typical movie marriages where the couple still loves each other but the flame has gone out of their relationship. If they had the choice of sleeping together or just sleeping, they’d choose the latter.
This provides the impetus for the couple’s spontaneous date night in Manhattan. When they’re unable to get a table at an upscale seafood restaurant, Phil improvises and decides to pose as a couple with reservations. This turns out to be a big mistake when, for reasons I’ll not reveal, the couple they’re impersonating is wanted by a mob boss (Ray Liotta) and the city’s D.A. (William Fichtner). Phil and Claire suddenly find themselves on a crazy adventure that involves quick getaways, dodging bullets, breaking and entering, car chases and asking a hunky security agent (Mark Wahlberg) for help.
Of course, the plot is beside the point. What matters is the stars’ chemistry and the execution of their predicament. Carell and Fey are in fine form here and we believe they’re a couple who’s been together long enough that they’d start taking each other for granted. They’re fun to watch and we sympathize with their dilemma. Sometimes, there’s just not enough time for love.
As appealing as the leads are, the movie really shines with its action and physical comedy. The escape sequence outside the Central Park boat house had me dying and the downtown chase scene was sort of ingenious in the way two cars were connected at the head. Who would have thought an outrageous comedy like Date Night would raise the bar on conventional action?
There’s also something to be said for the supporting players, especially Wahlberg, who clearly has no problem being exploited for his body. James Franco and Mila Kunis are also funny as a trashy, bickering couple, whose relationship problems aren’t all that different from Phil and Claire’s. Their scenes have some clever dialogue and it’s surprising to think the cast got through them well enough to provide a decent take (the blooper reel during the end credits suggests it wasn’t easy).
I was surprised to learn Fey didn’t lend her hand to the screenplay. She has a reputation for sharp, witty dialogue and there’s quite a bit of that here, courtesy of Josh Klausner. I guess when she’s not writing good dialogue, she’s speaking it.
All in all, Date Night doesn’t really add up to much, but it’s light, brisk and fun. It’s not as inspired or original as other one-night adventure comedies (Adventures in Babysitting), but it’s got charm, intelligence and funny performances just the same. It’s mainstream, popcorn entertainment that delivers on its promise for a swell time. In the end, what more could you ask for?