Date Night is a flawed movie with plot holes bigger than Central Park but boy, is it funny. Steve Carell and Tina Fey are sharp comic actors who manage to elevate a script that might have turned into an unwatchable movie if it had starred, say, Matthew McConaughey and Katherine Heigl.
Carell and Fey play Phil and Claire Foster, “a boring couple from New Jersey” who starts re-evaluating their lives after learning their friends Brad and Haley (Mark Ruffalo and Kristin Wiig) are separating. To spice things up, they decide to have date night in NYC at the latest hot spot in town, a pretentious restaurant called Claw with prices that make Phil say, “I’ll just suck on a napkin.” Not having a reservation, they take the one belonging to “the Tripplehorns” when that couple doesn’t show. This seemingly harmless stunt results in an outrageous, all-night adventure that involves mob bosses, strippers, corrupt cops and politicians. Yes, it strains credulity but fuggedaboutit, you’re there for the laughs, not the logic.
What also seems unbelievable is that Carell and Fey never worked together before this or knew each other well. Theirs is such a lived-in, real-world chemistry that I had to keep reminding myself they’re not really married to each other. Their comic rhythms are perfectly synced, making every scene as funny as possible without looking like they’re trying too hard.
The rest of the cast consists of many name actors, most of whom are criminally underused. Taraji P. Henson, who excels in emotionally complex roles, is wasted as a tough cop. Ruffalo and Wiig don’t have enough screen time to make an impression, while the only thing notable about Ray Liotta’s appearance is how much eyeliner he wears. And Gossip Girl‘s Leighton Meester as the Fosters’ babysitter? The gig should have been given to a middle-tier actor who could use the paycheck instead of someone already on a hit series who doesn’t need a thankless part.
More successful in supporting roles are Mark Wahlberg, hilarious as a shirt-shunning security expert who helps Claire and Phil, and James Franco and Mila Kunis as the real Tripplehorns, though that’s not their real names, either. Franco may be an academic in real life looking to pursue a PhD at Yale, but he cracks me up when he plays clueless and stupid. Sometimes it takes a lot of smarts to portray morons (see Carell as Michael Scott on The Office). And Kunis has consistently proven she is as funny as she is gorgeous.
Director Shawn Levy, he of the Night of the Museum movies I have no desire to see, throws in car chases, helicopters and shoot-outs for those in the audience who might be resistant to something called Date Night (does it say in Levy’s contract he’ll only direct movies involving nocturnal activities?). But the main attractions remain Carell and Fey. I had no expectations except to laugh and laugh I did (stay for outtakes over the end credits). I also expect—hope—that Carell and Fey will have many more cinematic dates together.
Nerd verdict: Fun first Date with Carell and Fey
Photos: Twentieth Century Fox