16 April 2010
Date Night works as an action-comedy precisely because its characters do not know they are in either a comedy or an action movie. They don't seem to realize they're in a movie at all.
They are simply Phil and Claire Foster (Steve Carell and Tina Fey), a married couple from New Jersey. They have a good but dull marriage. They genuinely like and love each other (yes, there is an important distinction between those two concepts). But between their jobs--he's a tax lawyer, she's a real estate agent--and caring for their two young children, their time for each other is limited to one weekly date. And even that has become routine--same restaurant, same food.
Trying to break out of this rut, the Fosters head into Manhattan for a night on the town. Of course, they can't get a table at the trendy new restaurant they want to try. In a rare moment of spontaneity, Phil claims the reservation of another couple the Tripplehorns that hasn't shown up.
It's all going rather well--ooh, look, it's Will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas!--until a pair of thugs (Jimmi Simpson, Common) show up and demand from the Fosters a flash drive the Tripplehorns stole from their boss. They aren't buying the Fosters' story of mistaken identity, and much running, chasing and shooting ensue.
The thugs aren't exactly what they seem, and the plot the Fosters have stumbled into also counts a mobster (Ray Liotta) and the district attorney (William Fichtner) among its players.
A solid supporting cast turns up throughout the movie, including a barechested Mark Wahlberg as a security expert and former client of Claire's; James Franco and Mila Kunis as Taste and Whippit, respectively, aka the Tripplehorns; and Taraji P. Henson as a detective trying to get to the bottom of it all.
With a running time of only 88 minutes, director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum) sets a brisk pace and doesn't let the action bog down the comedy. The action centerpiece is an extended car chase that, to my surprise, I rather enjoyed.
The movie succeeds largely on the strength of Carell and Fey, who have wonderful chemistry as husband and wife.
Though the situation in which Phil and Claire find themselves certainly is contrived, their relationship is not. Phil and Claire could be your next-door neighbors; you might even be half of this couple. They are average, everyday people with a solid, believable marriage thrown into an unbelievable situation and they react as you would expect average, everyday people to react.
It all adds up to a good pick for a date night of your own.
Greg's Grade: B
(Rated PG-13 for sexual and crude content throughout, language, some violence and a drug reference. 88 minutes.)