Details: In Cinemas 8 April 2010, United States, English
Synopsis: In New York City, a case of mistaken identity turns a bored married couple's attempt at a glamorous and romantic evening into something more thrilling and dangerous.
With the famous Sarah Palin impersonation and television’s most-awarded comedy 30 Rock to her credit, Tina Fey has become a one-woman media juggernaut over the last couple of years. You’ll get some idea of just how much the print media alone has christened her ‘America’s Darling of Comedy’ by typing ‘smart,sexy, Tina Fey’ into your search engine. The vast page-links are, frankly, astonishing...
There’s plenty of the ‘sexy’ but not so much of the ‘smart’ in Date Night, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing as there is also plenty of the ‘funny’ Tina Fey in Shawn Levy’s latest broad, audience-friendly comedy (his past efforts include the Night at the Museum films and Steve Martin’s The Pink Panther).
Fey stars opposite Steve Carell, another comedic hero of the white American middle-class, thanks to his lead role in The Office (US) and the demographic-friendly The 40 Year-old Virgin (2005), Little Miss Sunshine (2006) and Get Smart (2008). Together they are Phil and Claire Foster, an in-love married couple whose romantic yearnings are slipping away in a blur of breakfast rituals, unsatisfying work lives and suburban New Jersey routine.
In these early scenes, Fey and Carell establish a lovely rapport, through some effortless comedic chemistry and glimpses at the repressed emotions they keep from each other. They are a sweet couple, scared that one day they may not be together, and the actors generate immediate audience empathy.
When their close friends Haley and Brad (blink-and-miss-them cameos from Mark Ruffalo and Kristen Wiig) separate, a worried Phil and Claire decide to rev up the romance with a big night on the town.
At an insufferably trendy restaurant The Fosters secure a table by assuming the identity of no-show couple, The Tripplehorns. Things turn nasty when two gun-toting crooked cops (Jimmi Simpson and Common) come looking for The Tripplehorns. Fleeing into the New York night, Phil and Claire are at first frantic with panic but soon become resourceful, defiant players in a mystery that will implicate both a vicious crime boss (Ray Liotta) and an immoral district attorney (William Fichtner).
Date Night is first and foremost a comedic vehicle for its two stars, who recapture the angst-ridden appeal that Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis displayed in the similar fish-out-of-water comedy, The Out-of-Towners (1970). By association, the support players who get carried along in their comedic wake also shine. A forever-shirtless and utterly hilarious Mark Wahlberg displays a self-deprecating lack of ego as Holbrook Grant, the computer-security whiz who helps The Fosters track down The Tripplehorns (James Franco and Mila Kunis, who exchange blue-tongue zingers with Carell and Fey in their one memorable exchange). Well-cast incidental characters, such as Nick Kroll as the restaurant Maitre’ D and Gal Gabot as Wahlberg’s super-hot girlfriend Natanya, provide more laughs than their bit-parts entitle them.
The down side to all this merriment is that director Levy is not a renowned storyteller; you might recall that A Night at the Museum was both that film’s title and its entire script. With Date Night, the creaky, grinding scenes that drive the corrupt-politician subplot are the most perfunctory and Fey and Carell need to take some deep breaths to get through them. The film lacks a truly threatening bad guy, so there is very little tension associated with The Fosters’ plight – the film manifests itself as a tepid mystery rather than an engaging thriller. And there is a wildly-implausible car chase that takes the film from inspired, witty farce into Cannonball Run/Smokey & the Bandit territory. Though I’m sure it was designed to pep things up for the teenage audience (who won’t buy the bad blue-screen work, anyway), it’s a silly, regrettable interlude for those of us who had shown faith in the premise from the get-go (Fey looks particularly lost in these scenes).
But Levy and writer Josh Klausner (the man charged with re-energising the Shrek franchise with the upcoming Shrek Forever After) wisely decide to remain in the background and let their stars do their thing. Carell has the movie-star confidence and comedy moxie down pat by now – Phil Foster is his most fully-formed and engaging lead character since the bittersweet Dan in Real Life (2007). Fey, whose significant big-screen efforts to date have been the okay Baby Mama (2008) and the script for the terrific Mean Girls (2004), displays warmth and a growing assuredness as a multiplex-friendly comedienne.
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