Date Night



Steve Carell talks on a pay phone while Tina Fey looks terrified at something off camera in Date Night

As Printed in The Lumberjack on April 15, 2010

by Gary Sundt

Steve Carell and Tina Fey have become household names based on their ability play clueless people. Their latest film, Date Night, is a good example of just how good they can be at doing this. The two star as Phil and Claire Foster, an inconspicuous husband and wife who decide to switch up their routine when they steal someone else’s reservation at a high-end New York restaurant. Carell and Fey are perfect for these roles, because they are that sort of unassuming that makes you love them immediately, and their responses to every day life are as funny as their responses to the insanity that ensues in the big, scary city.

The madness begins when the Fosters are approached at dinner by two rough-looking guys (rapper-turned actor Common and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia regular Jimmi Simpson). Thinking they’ve been busted for jacking a reservation, they follow the men. Once out back, guns are drawn, and Phil and Claire are suddenly stuck in a situation that is set to bring them gun fights, car chases, blackmail and the very high possibility of being “wacked off.”

The script by Josh Klausner is not especially sharp, but nobody knows how to play a story for laughs like 30 Rock’s Liz Lemmon and The Office’s Michael Scott. Similarly, the slew of side characters, including Mila Kunis and James Franco as the real reservation holders, and Mark Wahlberg as the man-peach black ops expert who helps the Fosters, give the two veteran comedians a run for their money and provide the proper structural support to keep the story entertaining throughout. Date Night is the type of flick that reminds me why I hate movies like the recent rom-com dud The Bounty Hunter: It certainly doesn’t need to be perfect, but a little time and energy by those involved can make a world of difference.

While watching the movie, with its slew of colorful side characters and narrative flights of fancy, I find it nearly impossible to avoid thinking of Martin Scorsese’s little-known but very excellent 1985 flick, After Hours. Date Night isn’t nearly what that film is, mainly because Scorsese’s flick has more on its mind than a cute couples’ comedy. But the great similarity in presence between Griffin Dunn and Carell, combined with both stories’ very driving plotlines, make them interesting companion pieces. Date Night is like the family-friendly version of After Hours, tailor made for that large portion of the population that need a funny-but-familiar safety net with their comedies.

At certain moments, the inanity of the obligatory action sequences can test the nerves. Night at the Museum franchise director Shawn Levy directed Date Night, and his predilection toward over-the-top action serves more as a distraction in this film than a tool. But these moments are not ever too grating. Carell and Fey are funny people, and here they are in a funny movie. If you are looking for a relatively easy romantic-action-date night-comedy, or are a fan of the two actors’ clueless television personas, than it’s safe to say you’ll have a good time watching Date Night.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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