Phil and Claire Foster (Steve Carell and Tina Fey) are in a rut. They’re happily married parents of two precocious little shits kids, but they also feel like they’ve become little more than really good roommates. They have a weekly date night, but it’s always to the same local restaurant for the same meal and ends with the two of them too tired for sexual shenanigans… although Claire’s saliva-stringed retainer isn’t helping matters either. Hoping to mix things up one night the pair head into the city for dinner at a trendy restaurant, and in a moment of abandon Phil answers to another couple’s name in order to get a table. The “Tripplehornes” enjoy their meal but soon become unwilling participants in a dangerous and wacky case of mistaken identity. A fun night out becomes a crazy night on the run as the couple finds themselves being chased, shot at, and forced to ride a stripper pole in their quest to survive until morning.
Date Night works because it isn’t really trying too hard. That sounds terrible doesn’t it? But in a way that’s the brilliance of the movie. (Yeah, I’ll be hearing about that choice of words.) Why struggle to emulate the genius misadventures of After Hours when you can aim for the decidedly lighter but still entertaining Adventures In Babysitting? These are likable actors in energetic and humorous situations, but more than that they’re also likable characters. Phil and Claire feel like a real (enough) couple in love without the need to draw their marital issues out to cartoonish extremes just to get a laugh.
And Carell and Fey are more than simply the film’s funny bone… they’re also the heart. Sure he’s known for pratfalls and she’s known for snark, but the two of them are actually pretty solid actors too. The jokes and bodily injuries are here in spades, but the two of them also connect on a human level we can all relate to. The broad comedy of their misadventures and interactions with nutty characters is the main thrust of the movie, but woven throughout it all is a pretty sweet little romance. Phil and Claire are in love… they just needed a near-death experience to remember why.
The script is just okay, but the real laughs come from the actors delivering the lines (and possibly improvising) with personality and wit. Beyond the two leads Date Night is filled with cameos from several funny people. Mark Wahlberg is dryly hilarious as a shirtless security expert, James Franco and Mila Kunis shine as the real (well not really) Tripplehorns, and William Fichtner is always entertaining (and frankly needs more work) as a corrupt District Attorney. Other recognizable faces include Ray Liotta, Mark Ruffalo, Kristen Wiig, Common, and Olivia Munn. Lest you think this is simply a matter of throwing names into the flick for the sake of it most of these folks manage to actually be funny… and then leave. That’s the key. None of these cameos stick around long enough to grow tiresome or stale, and instead they’re in and out faster than FSR’s Robert Fure at the Bunny Ranch.
Some of the action does go a bit over the top though including a loud, gunshot-filled chase featuring two cars locked together at their bumpers. Things get ridiculous pretty quick, but making matters worse is the poor green-screen work during the in-car camera shots. I’d like a moratorium on that particular gimmick for all movies if possible, but I’ll settle for its removal from flicks that are otherwise free of special effects. It stands out like Stephen Colbert’s crooked right ear and distracts from the comedy at hand.
Comedy, more than any other genre, is subjective and difficult to gauge for anyone other than yourself. That said, Date Night is a funny, sweet, and entertaining movie worth sharing time with on your own personal night out with friends, family, or ladies of the evening. The laughs are fairly frequent and at no time involve a shot to nuts… that’s got to be worth something right? And wrapped around the comedy is a nice romance between a married couple trying to stay alive and stay together. Could the filmmakers have aimed a bit higher overall? Sure. But do they have anything to be ashamed of? Not at all. Date Night is is a fun date night movie. They’ve delivered on their promise.
The Upside: Lighthearted comedy; Carell and Fey have good chemistry and feel real; none of the cameos over-stay their welcome
The Downside: Little too goofy at times; action scenes can be excessive and appear too fake
On the Side: I lied above when I inferred the film’s cameos were over faster than Robert Fure at the Bunny Ranch. Most of them last for a solid four to five minutes.