Moviegoers might have been surprised this weekend to hear that a comedy about a bored married couple’s night out on the town was neck and neck with the epic Clash of the Titans at the box office. However, once you suspend your disbelief that two yuppies like Phil and Claire Foster could get caught up in a power struggle between thugs, you can sit back, relax and enjoy the silly ride that is Date Night.
Steve Carell, who we know and love as bumbling manager Michael Scott in The Office, stars as Phil Foster, a man very much in love with his wife but bored with the day-to-day routine of his marriage. Tina Fey, writer, producer and star of 30 Rock, plays Phil’s workaholic wife, Claire, who refuses to let Phil take on some of her household chores.
Though the two try to spice things up with occasional date nights, they usually sit in their regular booth, more interested in the dates of other couples around them than they are in each other.
After hearing that two of their friends are getting divorced, Phil and Claire decide to take a night off to do something different. They drive into the city, bust into a chic Manhattan restaurant and take the reservation of a no-show couple. In the middle of dinner, two thugs mistake Phil and Claire for the Tripplehorns — the party under whose name the table reservation was made — and press the couple for an important flash drive that belongs to their boss. Phil and Claire escape and set out to find the real Tripplehorns and the “McGuffin”-like flash drive in order to save their lives in a wild cat-and-mouse chase across New York City.
Director Shawn Levy (Cheaper by the Dozen, Night at the Museum) transformed the simple story of a married couple’s attempt to reignite the flame by adding a flare of urban charm and middle class wit. Date Night is actually something of a buddy movie — think Pineapple Express but with a middle-aged husband and wife in the place of desperate stoners.
Carell and Fey play the boring couple from Jersey with such wonderful comedic chemistry that it’s hard to believe the two aren’t actually married. The two were given the liberty to improvise during many of the scenes — you can see some of the outtakes if you stick around for the end credits.
When watching Date Night, it’s clear the filmmakers’ primary goal was to highlight the performances of Carell and Fey. Levy deftly inserts beats where the actors speak and respond to the funny dialogue and situations — the actor’s facial response sometimes got more laughs than the line that inspired it. Although it’s not as laugh-out-loud funny as some might have hoped, Date Night certainly has its moments of hilarity.
Date Night moves fast, running at about an hour and a half, with plenty of action to boot. In one particularly exciting sequence, Steve Carell drives a sports car into the front of a taxi, locking the two vehicles’ hoods together just before the couple is chased throughout the city.
There is as much physical comedy as hilarious dialogue, as Phil and Claire get roughed up, harassed and even thrown into some compromising situations. It’s watching these two that really keeps our attention, as the plot seems to move simply because the characters get an idea or fall into some trouble.
The film has several big name stars, each with his own comedic shtick. Mark Wahlberg has one of the film’s larger cameos as Holbrooke Grant, a rich, beefy high-tech guy who refuses to put on a shirt. Ray Liotta once again reprises his role as a tough, intimidating mobster. Mark Ruffalo, Kristin Wiig, James Franco and Mila Kunis all have minor spots reminiscent of their stints on Saturday Night Live and FunnyOrDie.com.
Date Night strives to attract a younger audience, though it actually seems to entertain the adults who can relate to the stress and delight of married life. Phil and Claire’s date night turns out to be a true test of their relationship as each saves the other from danger. In the end, we see they’ve spent the night like a couple of reckless teenagers, a true testament that married life can stay young and fresh.
The success of Date Night is carried by its desire to tell a simple story with plenty of heart. Ultimately, it’s the performances of Steve Carell and Tina Fey that delight us, as the plot moves basically because they’re moving, too. Audiences will enjoy this film if they go in not expecting to laugh every moment but simply to appreciate the work of two wonderful comedians in the industry today.