Phil and Claire Foster are a sensible, loving couple with two kids and a house in suburban New Jersey. The Fosters have their weekly "date night" -- an attempt at re-experiencing the spice of the dates of yesteryear, involving the same weekly night out at the local Teaneck Tavern. Their conversations quickly drift from barely-date talk to the same chore-chat they have at the dinner table at home. Exhausted from their jobs and kids, their dates rarely end in fore- or any other kind of play, let alone romance. After seeing two of their best friends -- another married couple with kids in suburban New Jersey -- split apart from living the same life they themselves lead, Phil and Claire begin to fear what may lie ahead: a state of bland indifference and eventual separation. In an attempt to take date night off auto-pilot, and hopefully inject a little spice into their lives, Phil decides a change of plans is in order: take Claire into Manhattan to the city's hottest new restaurant. The Fosters, however, don't have reservations. Hoping to be seated sometime before the clock strikes twelve, they steal a no-show couple's reservations. What could it hurt? Phil and Claire are now the Tripplehorns. The real Tripplehorns, however, it turns out, are a thieving couple who are being hunted down by a pair of corrupt cops for having stolen property from some very dangerous people. Forced on the run before they've even finished their risotto, Phil and Claire soon realize that their play-date-for-parents has gone awry, as they embark on a wild and dangerous series of crazy adventures to save their lives -- and their marriage.
Genres: Comedy and Romance
Running Time: 1 hr. 28 min.
Release Date: April 9th, 2010 (wide)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual and crude content throughout, language, some violence and a drug reference.
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
||Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg, Taraji P. Henson, Jimmi Simpson|
||Joseph M. Caracciolo Jr, Josh McLaglen, Tom McNulty|
It must be said that “Date Night” — in which a suburban married couple out for an evening in Manhattan endure car chases and the unwanted attention of thugs with guns — is superior to most recent movies of its kind, the marital action comedy. This is not saying much: better than “The Bounty Hunter” or “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” is not quite the same as “good.”
The presence of Tina Fey and Steve Carell in the main roles may promise something more, since rather than being the usual mismatched, nice-looking pair of romantic comedy corn muffins, they are accomplished professional funny people. Especially on television. And that’s part of the problem: “Date Night” sets these stars afloat in a busy and conventional story, hoping that their proven talents, or maybe their reputations, will keep the picture from sinking. It doesn’t entirely, but treading water for 90 minutes is no great accomplishment.
Though Ms. Fey shows occasional flashes of the smart, anxious sarcasm that drives Liz Lemon through the showbiz tumult of “30 Rock,” and though you can’t look at Mr. Carell’s face without inferring the antic cluelessness of Michael Scott in “The Office,” both performers are constrained by the drab formula demanded by long-form, big-screen entertainment. As Claire and Phil Foster, a real estate agent and an accountant with two kids and a house in New Jersey, Ms. Fey and Mr. Carell shoulder the laugh-killing burden of ordinary likability, which means that they can’t be too smart, too witty or too weird.
A flurry of outtakes accompanying the end credits suggests how much livelier this movie might have been if they had been allowed to improvise everything, or had just written the script themselves without regard for plot twists and character arcs and all the other creaky Hollywood machinery that keeps them running frantically from one set piece to the next.
“Date Night,” dutifully directed by Shawn Levy (“Night at the Museum,” among much else) from a hectic, half-baked screenplay by Josh Klausner (the last and next “Shrek” movies), does have moments of pleasant mischief. Most of these come courtesy of supporting players, who either turn Mr. Carell and Ms. Fey into straight men or else briefly rouse them to competitive comic life.
It is not surprising (and always a relief) to see Kristen Wiig in a movie like this one. And there is nothing shocking about encountering Mark Wahlberg without a shirt on, but Claire and Phil’s contrasting reactions to the spectacle of his pectorals do elicit a few laughs. And then Mr. Wahlberg speaks Hebrew, which can hardly fail to be hilarious. Even more so is an encounter with James Franco and Mila Kunis as a pair of would-be Alphabet City outlaws who show up to advance the plot and then, for a few blessed moments, derail it entirely.
About that plot: who cares? The Fosters, worried that their marriage has gone stale and that they’ve turned boring, impulsively head into the city, arriving at a super-chic restaurant without a reservation. They hijack another couple’s table, and then are mistaken for that other couple by a pair of bad guys (Jimmi Simpson and Common) who work for other bad guys, all of them scrambling to retrieve a flash drive with some sensitive information on it. This means that guns will be pointed, windshields will shatter, and a lot of other noise will distract the audience from the uneven dialogue and scattershot marital foolery.
Would you permit a brief discourse on the state of verbal humor in modern screen comedy? Well, never mind, then. But let me just say that “Date Night,” like so many other films of its type, too often relies on words, catchphrases and inflections that signify a generally accepted notion of funniness rather than being, you know, actually funny.
For example: the word vagina has no intrinsically humorous properties, but it’s uttered here as if believing that it did were sufficient to make it so. Same thing with the sarcastic rhetorical question — “Seriously?” “Really?” — that has become an almost universal lazy substitute for the traditional double take. And then there is the habit of trying to make a line retroactively uproarious by admitting that it really wasn’t funny to begin with.
As in: “I have no idea what I just said.” Ha ha. But I know just what I’m trying to say. “Date Night,” not untypically, tries to go both meta- and sub-, to be straightforwardly shticky, archly self-conscious and also, in the end, sweet and sincere. This should not be an impossible feat, and Mr. Carell and Ms. Fey might have been able to pull it off — if they had only been permitted to try.