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Remember the first time you laid eyes on that special someone and an electric feeling surged through your stomach? You just knew he or she was the “one.” I’m sure there are many memorable love stories out there but what happens after the magic’s been replaced with two kids, the 9 to 5, and a house in the suburbs? For Claire (Tina Fey) and Phil Foster (Steve Carell), the answer seemed simple enough: rediscover that spontaneity and take the edge off the daily monotony with a night in the big city. Well if things were that simple, then celluloid entertainment wouldn’t be half as fun and “Date Night” would be just about an average night out.It’s supposed to be just another date night for the Fosters, but Claire’s decision to dress a little bit fancier leads Phil to suggest leaving their New Jersey setting and heading for the Big Apple. A simple and very innocent decision leads to another innocent one as they arrive at a restaurant with no available tables. But rather then let a pretentious New York restaurant get them down, the couple takes someone else’s reservation. Sadly, the couple they pose as aren’t quite the most stand up people and the Fosters embark on an evening of organized crime, car chases, and pole dancing, all the while trying to reignite the passion of their marriage.
The film thrives at the beginning through the uncomfortable introductions of the characters. Between pretending to be asleep until the kids attack at 5:00am and Claire’s drool from a retainer, the “good life” never seemed so wearing. While this story is very familiar, “Date Night” does provide a level of sincerity often absent in other love-gone-numb films. This is a couple that does care for each other and still communicates, though they can’t verbalize the lack of intimacy. Exhaustion is the villain here and the only cure is for the Fosters to stay on their feet and keep running for their lives. This all adds up to a film far different from the usual couples of painfully slow dramas who don’t talk to each other apart from general comments about putting bills in the mail or the changing texture of grass.
Tina Fey and Steve Carell may rule the world of television comedy but they’re far from the masters of film, save their separate involvements in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Mean Girls”. While the two provide enough comic relief to keep things interesting until the end, their work on “30 Rock” and “The Office” makes it hard to imagine them in much else, especially in a film that provides so little room to breath. The pieces are all there, Fey’s wit and Carell’s mastery of the awkward the moment, but the jokes just don’t go far enough. The film seems more worried about car chases and moving the plotline than allowing the characters to bask. Luckily, there are enough of those scattered moments, just not as many as there could have been.
Director Shawn Levy’s had a rough run with such bombs as “Cheaper by the Dozen” and “The Pink Panther” and his work on the “Night at the Museum” franchise started well but ended badly. “Date Night” feels like Levy’s back-to-the-basics film, and for the most part, it wields adequate results—humor spliced with a quaint message about the importance of keeping the thrill of love alive, years after the fire’s supposedly gone out.
Cameos…there’s quite a bit of them here: Mark Wahlberg, Common, Ray Liotta, Mark Ruffalo, Mila Kunis, James Franco, Kristen Wiig and the lineless Will i Am. Franco leads the pack as he reprises his classic stoner/slacker role, perfected for “Freaks and Geeks” and again for “Pineapple Express”. And it’s always comical when actors parody themselves, just as Wahlberg does with his role as the shirtless technology wiz who helps the Fosters and Liotta in his 456th role as a gangster.
It’s better than Carell’s “Get Smart” and on par with Fey’s “Baby Mama”.
Even at their most generic, Tina Fey and Steve Carell are at the top of the game and this film allows them a first opportunity to work together. Hopefully, they’ll do it again in the future—perhaps take the lead in the creative process. “Date Night’s” a decent film for a night out with the significant other.
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