Date Night

Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
  Date Night
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Phil (Steve Carell) and Claire Foster (Tina Fey) try to keep their suburban marriage from getting in a rut by having a weekly date at their favorite eatery. But that custom is in a rut, too, so they decide to spice things up by going to a new, popular restaurant on Manhattan. Without reservations, though, their chance of getting a table is slim to none. As they cool their heals in the bar waiting for the impossible table, the hostess calls the next reservation – the Tripplehorns, party of two – but they never materialize. Phil decides it won’t hurt anyone if they take the reservation and the Fosters sit down for a pleasant meal. He is wrong, though, and it makes for one heck of a “Date Night.”

The chemistry between Steve Carell and Tina Fey is palpable as the two comedians play off each other for the first time and this is the reason to see “Date Night.” The story about a married couple’s date going completely awry is familiar “After Hours” territory and the clichéd script by Josh Klausner lacks originality. That said, it is Phil and Claire who hold our attention and the great comedic timing and skill make “Date Night” fun and entertaining.

A case of mistaken identity has been the meat of dramatic and comedic thrillers for almost as long as there have been talking pictures and “Date Night” follows tradition. Things spiral out of control for the Fosters when two hoods order the couple the leave the restaurant with them. Things get ugly when the hapless couple realizes they are in deadly danger. What ensues includes a lethal mob boss (lustily played by Ray Liotta), corrupt cops, blackmail, a car chase and a moral coda that things are not so bad in your own yard.

What makes “Date Night” a worth a date night, beside Carell and Fey, is the rest of the supporting cast. Ray Liotta chews scenery to good avail as the vengeful mobster and Mark Walberg, in naked chest splendor, has fun as realtor Claire’s former client and helpful shady security expert. James Franco (again proving a first-rate comedic actor) and Mila Kunis are a riot in the small roles as the grifting con artists who turn out to be the couple that started this whole escapade, the Tripplehorns. Taraji P. Henson is solid as the sympathetic detective trying to help the Fosters and William Fitchner is slimy corruption as the DA who is the subject of the film’s blackmail subplot.

Techs are good, as one should expect, and show Manhattan in both glamorous and sinister light.

The talented cast, anchored by Steve Carell Tina Fey, makes “Date Night” far better than it could have been. The stars give an old-fashioned spin a la the Nick and Nora of the “Thin Man” thrillers and Tracy and Hepburn, making me want to see them team up again – with a better script. I give it a B.

When married with kids fortysomethings Phil (Steve Carell) and Claire Foster (Tina Fey) learn that their friends, Haley (SNL's Kristen Wiig) and Brad (Mark Ruffalo, "Shutter Island") are splitting because they've turned into 'exceptional roommates,' they start to question their own marriage.  Claire puts more effort into dolling herself up for a night out with Phil, inspiring him to go all out and take her to a fancy Manhattan restaurant, but when they hijack another couple's reservation they become targets of both the cops and a local mobster on what should have been their "Date Night."

What happens when you pair television comedy giants Steve Carell and Tina Fey, both of whom have had spotty movie records, in a film written by Josh Klausner ("The 4th Floor") and directed by Shawn Levy, known for such bland to awful endeavors as the "Night at the Museum" movies and "The Pink Panther" remake?  A pass. Although the film could have been much funnier if it had been allowed to be edgier, Carell and Fey turn out to be a believable couple of marrieds and they're supported by a string of surprising stars willing to goof on themselves.

The Fosters actually seem to be on pretty solid ground even if their relationship lacks passion.  He's a tax lawyer, she's a realtor and their two young kids are pretty typical.  They have a leg up in that they schedule a weekly date night, even if it usually consists of potato skins and salmon at the local steak house while playing games of 'What's their story?' other patrons.  But Claire remembers that they probably last danced together at their wedding and Phil cannot understand why a couple would sit on the same side of a banquette.  You can be sure both issues will be remedied by the end of their adventure.

When they're treated poorly at Claw, a new exclusive seafood restaurant, Phil becomes more determined to have dinner there and so when the hostess seems unable to find the Tripplehorn party of two, Phil assumes the mantle.  They're having a great time eating fancy food, drinking expensive wine and getting a surreptitious snap with when they are approached by two men (Jimmi Simpson, "The Invention of Lying" and Common, "Terminator Salvation") who confirm they are the Tripplehorns, then ask to see them outside.  There they're accused of kidnapping and extortion and a flash drive for 'the boss,' mobster Joe Miletto, is demanded at gun point ('Killshot!' screams Phil when the gun is turned sideways).  From this point on the Fosters must evade both Miletto and the police he has in his pocket, and they figure their best course of action is to find that flash drive.

As attractive as Fey can be, she cannot supress her inner nerdiness which makes her a good match for Carell.  The two seem like peas in a pod with their choreographed physical comedy, although by the time they're posing as a pimp and his stripper/whore and made to perform that PG-13 rating reins them in. They're a lot funnier posing as city hipsters.  Their night-long adventure also means that we're treated to a parade of supporting players beginning with Mark Wahlberg who, in a running joke, remains shirtless throughout the film much to Phil's consternation and Claire's delectation.  Then there's the surprise that the Tripplehorns are actually a seedy couple, Taste (James Franco, "Pineapple Express," "Milk") and Whippit (Mila Kunis, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall"), who are genuinely fond of one another.  Another couple who graduated from television to film, Franco and Kunis are amusing, despite tepid writing, although frankly Franco is recycling his "Pineapple Express" persona.  Another TV guy, J.B. Smoove of "Til Death" and post-Katrina "Curb Your Enthusiasm," adds flavor as a New York cabbie who's car becomes attached to Wahlberg's being driven by the Fosters as a getaway vehicle.  On the other hand, it is disappointing to see "Hustle & Flow's" Taraji P. Henson playing it straight as a NY Detective and neither William Fichtner ("Blades of Glory") or an uncredited Ray Liotta bring anything to the party as a corrupt DA and the mob boss he enables.    Ruffalo and Wiig must have owed somebody a favor.

"Date Night" isn't a bad movie, but it's not a very good one either.  We can see the stars, especially Fey, start to percolate when giving alternate line readings during closing credit outtakes.  These two are both good writers, so why are they performing someone else's inferior screenplay?

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