Date Night (20th Century Fox)
As the current reigning king and queen of TV comedy (pending George Lopez’s request for a recount), Steve Carell and Tina Fey can basically do no wrong. They could sit in an empty room reading aloud from the dictionary, and we would all be unhealthily amused.
So is Date Night a funny movie? Of course it’s a funny movie: Steve Carell and Tina Fey are unlawfully funny people. Unfortunately, Date Night doesn’t do them many favors.
Fey and Carell play Claire and Phil Foster (I’m assuming they share forenames with Modern Family’s Claire and Phil Dunphy by coincidence only), a married couple trapped in the monotony of suburban family life.
Theirs is a familiar routine: kids, work, home, more kids, and more work, then crawling into bed drained of nearly all will and stealing just a few hours of shuteye before getting up to do it all over again the next day.
Even their weekly “date night” has become a scheduled plate of potato skins—hardly a break from the daily grind. And romantic stuff? Forget about it: the fire is all but gone.
When their espoused friends decide to call it quits and report a new sense of freedom, Phil and Claire begin to look at their own marriage. Not that I have personal experience with matrimonial arrangements (good God, just no), but their anxieties seem pretty spot-on.
For their next date night, the Fosters try to liven things up by dressing up, freshening up, and heading out to an exclusive, fancy restaurant in the city.
Of course, such an exclusive, fancy locale requires a reservation made weeks in advance, so Phil and Claire are left tableless and out of place. Their special night is coming to an early and disappointing end. Looks like it’s back to potato skins.
Or is it?
The hostess reads out a name: a table is ready for the “Tripplehorns.” Tonight, Claire and Phil Foster decide that they are Claire and Phil Tripplehorn. Dinner is served!
Or is it?
Soon, the Fosters—misidentified as the Tripplehorns—find themselves knee-deep in some insane and chaotic conspiracy, chased down by gun-toting dirty cops with mafia ties into a strip joint frequented by a political figurehead with a proclivity for broomsticks.
So goes the haphazard narrative of Date Night: more a string of skits than a single consistent and conceivable story. The film begins rooted in authenticity, determined to be relatable, and then quickly veers into increasingly ridiculous and improbable territory. The zanier it gets, the funnier it gets, and you’ll wish the film had fully abandoned our burdensome reality a lot sooner.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where the story is going and how Phil and Claire’s date night will end. The question is: will we have fun along the way?
The answer is: yes and no.
The film contains plenty of lifeless bantering, uninspired situations, and misguided attempts at humor. But even as jokes fall flat, Fey and Carell significantly elevate the material with their charisma as comedians and chemistry as a couple.
Granted, there are a few successful bits among the more typical meandering mediocrity. When Phil and Claire go out to eat, they peer at dining couples around them and take turns sarcastically ventriloquizing the contents of their conversations. A clever concept by itself, and our leading performers showcase well their improvisational skills (as revealed in the blooper reel over the end credit scroll).
The Fosters’ eventual exchange with—and blatant contrast to—the actual Tripplehorns (played by James Franco and Mila Kunis with surprisingly energetic devotion) likewise provides a good run of laughs. And I defy you not to smile as Tina Fey and Steve Carell prepare to mount the stripper pole. I’ll say no more!
Still, Date Night doesn’t offer anything instantly exciting to set itself apart from the yearly onslaught of situational comedies at the cinema. The film makes for a solid springtime diversion; but as much as it may be momentarily enjoyable, it’s also instantly, and regrettably, forgettable.
Except, of course, for the chiseled abomination that is Mark Wahlberg’s naked torso.
I’ll say no more!
Directed by Shawn Levy. Written by Josh Klausner.
Rated PG-13 for sexual and crude content throughout, language, some violence and a drug reference.
Runtime is 1 hour, 28 minutes.