by Rosha Murray
In order for a movie packed full of unlikely plot-developments and general silliness like DATE NIGHT, a cast that’s easy to love who have razor sharp comic timing and mastery of their tone is needed. Fortunately, Steve Carrell and Tina Fey meet all three requirements, and thus, DATE NIGHT works on many levels.
Carrell and Fey play a nearly middle aged married couple with kids. They have a comfortable suburban life, and are still fond of each other, but they are also clearly just a bit worn out by life. “Date Nights” for them consist of going to a local steak restaurant, with worn-out décor and no sense of romance whatsoever. And in time-honored, clichéd tradition, they wonder if they are still in-love with the other…because they see their closest friends getting divorced. I hate the way Hollywood likes to make us think that no long term marriage could possibly still be happy and fulfilling. True, raising a family and nurturing a career and paying bills and time do take their toll…but mature couples embrace those things. They don’t shake their heads with regret over the wild and crazy times they may have missed.
Anyway, I clearly digress. One day, Carrell decides to shake things up just a bit, and invites his wife to go “into the city” to try out a hot new restaurant they’ve heard of. Naturally, when they arrive, with no reservations, they are treated with withering disdain by the staff…but Carrell hangs in there, and when the name “Tripplehorn” is repeatedly called by the hostess to no avail, Carrell declares that he and his wife are the Tripplehorns and they are seated and begin to enjoy a lovely evening together. Then they are approached by a couple of thuggish men, who escort them to the alley and begin to rough them up. Because apparently the real Tripplehorns are engaged in blackmail, and they are being hunted by some bad men. Thus, Carrell and Fey embark on a pretty wild and crazy Date Night…one in which many silly moments of physical comedy happen to them and equally as many unlikely plot twits.
If you’re going to see this movie for a coherent crime drama about two amateurs who foil a crime syndicate…you’ll be disappointed. But if, like 99.99% of the people attending, you’re hoping for some good laughs and high-quality banter…you’ll be mostly pleased. Carrell & Fey deliver and then some. Although these two performers have not really worked together before, they both share a past history with Chicago’s famed Second City Improv group, and their comic sensibilities blend together quite nicely. They can take some pretty mundane writing, and produce some remarkable laughs. While I won’t go so far as to say that Carrell and Fey (the actors) are clearly affectionate towards each other…you can certainly see the appreciation for each other’s skill on their faces. Carrell, in particular, gets a real twinkle of delight in his eyes when Fey delivers a great line. There is nothing serious in their performances, but there is a warmth and camaraderie that are infectious.
They are ably assisted by many good cameos, including a hilarious scene with James Franco and Mila Kunis and a recurring appearance from Mark Wahlberg, who plays a government security consultant (e.g. CIA) who has a lovely apartment and an apparent unwillingness to wear shirts. While Wahlberg isn’t really asked to do much except allow Fey and Carrell to react to him…he shows a humor about himself that is often missing in his persona. The invaluable William Finctner shows up later, as does Ray Liotta, playing the character Ray Liotta always does.
The movie also features an unlikely but very funny car chase. Your enjoyment of it will greatly depend on your willingness to utterly suspend disbelief….but if you do, it’s funny enough to cause a pain in your side. Other moments of physical comedy fall flatter, even when Fey & Carrell are funny, the stuff they are asked to do sometimes isn’t. Again, in lesser hands (say, oh, Gerard Butler & Jennifer Aniston), this movie would be nearly intolerably shrill. But in the end, it’s a wonderful tribute to the skills of its two stars and while it’s not a classic screwball comedy, it is still well worth your time.