Saturday, May 08, 2010

Date Night / *** (PG-13)

Phil Foster: Steve Carell
Claire Foster: Tina Fey
Holbrooke: Mark Wahlberg
Detective Arroyo: Taraji P. Henson
Armstrong: Jimmi Simpson
Collins: Common
DA Frank Crenshaw: William Fichtner
Taste: James Franco
Whippit: Mila Kunis
Joe Miletto: Ray Liotta

20th Century Fox presents a film directed by Shawn Levy. Written by Josh Klausner. Running time: 88 min. Rated PG-13 (for sexual and crude content throughout, language, some violence, and a drug reference).

It’s been months… Heck, nearly a year since my wife and I went on a proper date. We had an evening come up this weekend when it looked like we might actually have an opportunity to go out! And then we realized it was prom night. Our chances of getting a baby sitter were nil and none. We were ready to concede our fate. Such are the realities of dating your own spouse. “Date Night” is a movie that recognizes those realities and capitalizes on them with the comic personalities of its stars Steve Carell and Tina Fey.

I can’t imagine why these two performers haven’t been paired together before. Not only do their shows run back to back with each other every Thursday night on NBC, but also they’ve each built their careers out of their awkward ordinariness. Perhaps they were just looking for the right material for that particular comedy set. “Date Night” is tailor made for this pair’s particular strengths, and it may not have worked without them.

They play the Fosters, a married couple who have settled in to the family lifestyle so many of us lead. I loved the detail about the kids bursting into the bedroom begging to be fed breakfast. When the weary parents decide there isn’t a chance of getting any more sleep and finally say, “Yes”, we discover along with the poor punished parents that it’s 5 a.m. There probably isn’t a parent out there that has not experienced this moment. Fey and Carell play these normal parenting moments as naturally as they’ve probably experienced them personally.

This being a movie, however, events are not destined to remain routine. On one of their weekly date nights, which have become as routine as the rest of their lives, the Fosters decide to live on the edge by taking someone else’s reservation at the current New York restaurant everyone’s talking about. It becomes a running gag throughout the movie of how appalled anybody is that someone should even think of taking another person’s reservation. This might have been funnier had I believed that this was not something that was contemplated and acted upon hundreds of times each night throughout NYC and the rest of the country, for that matter. As it turns out, the Foster’s picked the wrong dinner reservation to pinch.

The confusion over just who the Fosters are leads them into the sites of criminals and police officers alike, sometimes at the same time. Eventually, Mrs. Foster must call upon a former real estate client, played by Mark Wahlberg, a security expert who must help them straighten out their predicament. This leads to a couple of great scenes of humor about the male ego. “For the love of God will you put on a shirt?” Carell pleads at one point. I don’t recall Wahlberg ever does, and I felt just as small sitting next to my grinning wife in the theater. James Franco and Mila Kunis are also given a rather humorous scene as the couple the Fosters impersonated at the restaurant.

The plot is rather hackneyed. However, it never really matters as it is all about Carell and Fey. They’re more than up to the task of carrying this entire film on their ordinary shoulders. It seems they are able to turn just about any predicament into comedy gold. From motorboat engines to pole dancing, this movie’s only goal is to put this seemingly bland couple into the most bizarre situations screenwriter Josh Klausner (“Shrek the Third”) and director Shawn Levy (“Night at the Museum”) can dream up, and see how awkwardly they react. It’s really rather brilliant how reliant this film is on the comedic prowess of its leads alone. It really seems to need nothing else but these two actors to make it work.

As for our own date night, it turns out one of my wife’s friends, who has kids close to ours’ ages and none at the prom, offered to take ours for the night. We got our date night off without so much as a scratch, let alone being mistaken for a couple of criminals, chased by the cops and the mob, and possibly getting wacked off… er, that is, I mean to say ‘wacked out.’ Of course, some days that would seem less exciting than raising two kids, and therefore, a welcome distraction.

No comments: