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.
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.) 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
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
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
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.