Monday, April 12, 2010

Movie Review: Date Night

Date Night ***
Directed By:
Shawn Levy.
Written By: Josh Klausner.
Starring: Steve Carell (Phil Foster), Tina Fey (Claire Foster), Mark Wahlberg (Holbrooke), Taraji P. Henson (Detective Arroyo), Jimmi Simpson (Armstrong), Common (Collins), William Fichtner (DA Frank Crenshaw), Leighton Meester (Katy), Kristen Wiig (Haley Sullivan), Mark Ruffalo (Brad Sullivan), James Franco (Taste), Mila Kunis (Whippit). Ray Liotta (Joey).

Date Night is an example of a movie that is saved by its cast. Director Shawn Levy is one of the biggest hacks in Hollywood. This is his sixth comedy in recent years and the only one that is any good. He still doesn’t really understand how to direct or edit his movies. But in the case of Date Night it doesn’t matter – Steve Carell and Tina Fey are so good in this movie, have so much natural chemistry that they make the movie work almost in spite of itself.

Carrel and Fey play Phil and Claire Foster, a typical suburban couple living in New Jersey, raising their two kids and leading a fairly boring life. Once a week they have a “Date Night”, and every time they go to the same restaurant and order the same things and make fun of the people around them and are home before 11, where typically they don’t have sex. It isn’t that they don’t love each other anymore, it’s just that they have gotten into a routine, and are having a hard time breaking out of it. Their best friends announce they are getting divorced because they were just “really good roommates”. Determined not to let the same thing happen to them, they decide to make this date night special. They head into Manhattan where they try to get a table at a trendy restaurant, and are told to wait at the bar, knowing they will never get seated. But when the head waitress walks around the bar calling out the name “Triplehorn” over and over again, and they see no one is coming forward, they decide to pretend to be the Triplehorns themselves. This seemingly innocent move ends up getting them involves with corrupt cops and gangsters who want to kill them.

Date Night is, of course, utterly preposterous. But you know that heading into the movie. This innocent, boring suburban couple are thrust into a complex web of lies, deceit and murder – but everyone chasing them seem to be out of the Keystone Cops – as they are a bunch of bumbling fools, much like the Fosters themselves.

But what Date Night lacks in believability, it more than makes up for in terms of humor. Carrel and Fey are two of the most talented actors on television – from The Office and 30 Rock respectively – and they work well together – very well. You never doubt for a second that these two could be a long married couple in a rut. No matter how outlandish the action around them becomes, the two actors ground the movie with their performances. We really do come to care for the Fosters. It certainly doesn’t hurt that either of these two can deliver one liners with the best of them. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that they even came up with some of the best ones themselves.

Carrel and Fey are also surrounded by an excellent supporting cast. Taraji P. Hensen is given the most thankless role as the one cop they may be able to trust. It is rather a boring role, but she does what she can with it. But everyone else is great. I especially loved James Franco and Mila Kunis as the real Triplehorns – a couple of spaced out freaks who barely seem to know what is going on, but are disgusted that the Fosters stole their reservations. Mark Wahlberg seems to have been cast because he looks really good without his shirt on, but he is also quite enjoyable as a security expert who helps the Fosters out, and is a valued presence because of what he brings out in Carrel and Fey.

Date Night is not a great movie. With Shawn Levy at the helm, that would seem to be nearly impossible to accomplish. But it is an enjoyable one from beginning to end. Carrel and Fey are great together. If they got a script up to their level, and a director who knows what the hell he’s doing, they could make a great movie together. Until then, we’ll have to settle for Date Night.

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