by HELEN GEIB
I saw Date Night last weekend. Normally I write my new-releases reviews the same weekend as I see the movie, but in this case, the time that I would ordinarily have given to review-writing was instead given to doing my taxes. Coincidentally, the film’s hero is a tax lawyer. None of this is particularly germane to my review, but I thought I’d throw it out there.
That’s kind of the way the movie feels too, which isn’t to say I didn’t laugh an awful lot while I was watching it.
Date Night is a comedy vehicle for Steve Carell and Tina Fey. They are really funny in this movie. They have great comic timing and adeptly handle the film’s (fairly mild) slapstick-style physical comedy. Some of the funniest moments are one or the other of them looking into the camera with an almost blank expression. They’re really great at just barely registering a reaction, and following up the near non-reaction with the perfect follow-up line. Not perfect for the words, but for the delivery. There are some funny lines in Josh Klausner’s script, but most of the laughs are in the delivery.
Carell and Fey play Phil and Claire Foster, a happily married couple with two elementary-age kids. She is a real estate agent and he, as mentioned, is a tax lawyer. They live in suburban New Jersey and have a comfortable middle-class lifestyle. Wanting to shake things up a bit and recapture some pre-“married with children” romance, they glam up their regular “date night” with a trip into the city. That would be Manhattan, where they get mistaken for a pair of small-time blackmailers who stumbled onto a big thing involving a local mafia boss and the corrupt politician in his pocket. Comic mayhem ensues as the Fosters spend the rest of the night being chased around the city, looking up an old client of Claire’s who happens to be a superspy sort of guy (amusingly played by Mark Wahlberg, pointedly shirtless in all his scenes), and finally turning the tables on their pursuers.
Rather like this review, structure and focus are not the film’s strong suit. There is a plot of sorts, but it’s thin and predictable and not very important anyway. The plot is just there to move the Fosters around the city so they can react in funny ways to the different people they run into and get themselves out of the different comical situations they get themselves into in funny ways.
Like that last sentence, some of the jokes go on too long. Others fall flat. This is a good movie to see with friends, because you’ll probably laugh really hard at things they think are totally lame, and vice versa. And that will give you something to talk about over dinner afterward.
You: That was great! I loved it when their car gets stuck to the taxi and they end up in that crazy police chase!
Friend #1: Really? I agree the idea was good and it was funny at first, but it just went on too long. You know what was really great, though? When they infiltrated the strip club to get to the sleazy DA!
Friend #2: Are you serious?! That robot sex mime thing wasn’t funny at all! You know what was good about that part, though? The shake down on the roof. Ray Liotta as the mafia guy was funny all by itself.
You: It was funny, but they could have done more with it. Still, overall I really enjoyed it. Carell and Fey are really hilarious.
Friend #2: Yeah, they totally carried the movie. Plus Wahlberg was pretty funny too.
Friend #1: Agreed. Shawn Levy’s not exactly the world’s greatest director, but with those two in the lead, any movie’s gonna be pretty much a can’t miss proposition.
You: Yeah, you’re right. So, what are you getting?
2 1/2 stars
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Date Night is definitely a huge improvement on director Shawn Levy’s prior film, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.