Date Night got fairly good reviews, but that really only proves how funny Tina Fey and Steve Carell are. While the script is filled with weak gags and absurd hijinks, the stars save the movie from becoming a complete dud.
The film, which opens today, is about tax accountant Phil Foster (Carell) and real estate broker Claire Foster (Fey), a self-described "boring married couple" from New Jersey who decide to go to a ritzy restaurant in New York City for their weekly date night after their friends (Mark Ruffalo and Kristen Wiig) announce they're divorcing. When the Fosters steal another couple's dinner reservation, they are mistaken for blackmailers who stole a flash-drive containing incriminating information about a group of criminals. As they're being chased all over the city the Fosters run into thugs (Common and Jimmi Simpson), a drug dealer and his stripper girlfriend (James Franco and Mila Kunis), a cop (Taraji P. Henson), a mobster (Ray Liotta), and a security expert who is Claire's former client (Mark Wahlberg and his abs).
Critics say Date Night is more enjoyable than most recent action comedy movies, but "better than The Bounty Hunter or Did You Hear About The Morgans is not quite the same as 'good.'" Reviewers blame director Shawn Levy, who made the Night at the Museum and Cheaper By The Dozen, for adding in too many goofy stunts, like a car chase and a scene in which the Fosters strip. Levy also relies on slapstick humor rather than the "sharp comedy that's fast-paced, cerebral, and laden with cultural references" that Fey is particularly known for. Fey and Carell salvage the film with funny ad libs, good comedic chemistry, and the fact that they seem like they could actually be a normal couple from New Jersey, but when the actors' bloopers over the credits are funnier than the actual script, there's definitely a problem.
Below, the reviews:
The comedy turns coarse during a garishly overproduced car chase. (Ditto for the broadness of William Fichtner's dissolute district attorney.) That's a pity, but hardly a mystery. Under pressure from less expensive forms of entertainment, the studios fear that small-scale films-even distinctive little films like this one-won't find an audience unless they're bulked up with production values. (And a car chase in the trailer will surely sell tickets.) Not to worry, though. Date Night is too good to be wrecked by reckless driving.
Like the recent Jennifer Aniston misfire, "The Bounty Hunter," "Date Night" makes the fundamental miscalculation that a hand-me-down plot will look after itself while the actors goof in the foreground. It's a fatal error, because a sense of danger invariably sharpens our laughter, and because audiences still care about stories there's no bigger turn-off than a storyteller who doesn't. Levy engineers one innovative set piece, a chase in which the getaway car becomes enmeshed with the front grill of a yellow cab after a head-on collision, the two autos speeding through intersections, one going forwards, the other in reverse, with the heavies in hot pursuit. It's a novel sequence, but virtually the only excitement in the movie's labored run-in.
Tina Fey and Steve Carell make Date Night an absurd and wildly amusing night to remember. This is the rare screwball comedy that is superbly paced, cleverly plotted and hilarious from start to finish. Fey and Carell are ideally cast. Their respective improvisational talents and razor-sharp comic timing make them one of the most engaging on-screen couples around. And their chemistry is palpable. Whether hashing out marital problems, giddily running from the law, enduring a harrowing car chase or staring into the barrel of a mobster's gun, they nail it every time. Equally skilled in verbal banter and ridiculous physical gags, neither is afraid to look ridiculous - and both frequently do.
It must be said that Date Night - in which a suburban married couple out for an evening in Manhattan endure car chases and the unwanted attention of thugs with guns - is superior to most recent movies of its kind, the marital action comedy. This is not saying much: better than The Bounty Hunter or Did You Hear About The Morgans is not quite the same as "good." ... A flurry of outtakes accompanying the end credits suggests how much livelier this movie might have been if [Fey and Carell] had been allowed to improvise everything, or had just written the script themselves without regard for plot twists and character arcs and all the other creaky Hollywood machinery that keeps them running frantically from one set piece to the next.
Date Night, like so many other films of its type, too often relies on words, catchphrases and inflections that signify a generally accepted notion of funniness rather than being, you know, actually funny. For example: the word vagina has no intrinsically humorous properties, but it's uttered here as if believing that it did were sufficient to make it so. Same thing with the sarcastic rhetorical question - "Seriously?" "Really?" - that has become an almost universal lazy substitute for the traditional double take. And then there is the habit of trying to make a line retroactively uproarious by admitting that it really wasn't funny to begin with.
Date Night may be the funniest movie of the year so far-one-quarter of the way through a year that's been remarkably weak for comedies. This is a movie that I'm inclined to grade on a serious curve, because while it never achieves full-on laugh-riot momentum, it gets one crucial element of comic filmmaking right in a way that few recent comedies have. It's cast, down to the smallest role, with genuinely funny performers, people who understand how to time a joke, deliver a setup, underplay a deadpan glance. Though the material-an often-formulaic script by Josh Klausner, directed by Shawn Levy of the Night at the Museum franchise-isn't always worthy of their talents, Tina Fey and Steve Carell (and many of their co-stars, including Mark Wahlberg, James Franco, and Mila Kunis) manage intermittently to elevate Date Night to giddy heights.
Carell and Fey have an easy, affectionate rapport as run-down parents looking to renew some romantic sparks with a night out in Manhattan to break their boring routine. The actors try hard to make it work, but the lowbrow sensibilities of director Shawn Levy leave them tottering through painful verbal exchanges, lame stunts and other dreadfully unfunny hijinks (their pole dance at a strip club is just embarrassing, and like so many of the movie's gags, it drags on a long time).
Fey has become associated with comedy that's fast-paced, cerebral, and laden with cultural references; even more than Carell, she's hurt by the transition from a sitcom that regularly operates on multiple levels (30 Rock to a film squarely aimed just north of the lowest common denominator. Director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museums) glosses over the seeds of social satire inherent in the premise, and instead tries to make his movie all things to all quadrants-straight-faced violent action flick, slapstick comedy, relationship comedy, sanctimonious ode to family values. A jumble of genres, tones, and styles, Date Night ultimately strains to be a serious movie about marriage, with one joke: that, even when surrounded by excitement, Claire and Phil revert to being dull. But in practice, their dullness is just dull.
As the characters wiggle their way out of scrapes during a bizarro night in New York City, the actors hold steady as grownups, a rarity in a world of rom-coms about flighty girls and lost boys. And as a result, even when the action veers into tedium, the leads provide their own excellent entertainment. Box office champ Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum) directs this soft-edged all-American couples comedy with a nod of the chin to TV sitcoms and a tip of the hat to William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles in their Thin Man movies. The movie is a Walter Mitty fantasy for the modern kids'-playdate set.
Fey and Carell know, as great comic actors like Cary Grant and Jack Lemmon knew, that their job in a comedy is to behave with as much realism as possible and let the impossibilities whirl around them. To begin with, Carell and Fey look like they might be a pleasant married couple. Attractive, but not improbably so. Young, but not that young. Fit, but they don't reveal unexpected skills. And frightened when they need to be. Do you ever wonder why the characters in some movies are never gob-smacked in the face of what seems like certain death? All of this is a way of saying that Date Night is funny because, against all odds, it is involving. Each crazy step in the bizarre plot made a certain sense because it followed from what went before; it's like the Scorsese masterpiece After Hours.
At times, pic's domino-style series of spontaneous adventures, gallery of unsavory characters and brushes with peril suggest a lesser version of the nocturnal black comedies After Hours or Into the Night — but those were rated R, and this one is resolutely PG-13. That's a little too bad, as it would be fun to see where Fey and Carell could really go if let loose, and if Date Night had even further embraced its edginess. Nevertheless, it's a date worth making.
n the hands of, say, a Greg Kinnear and a Sarah Jessica Parker, the thing could be a disaster. It's not. Not by a long shot. That's because Carell and Fey have something that no movie, no matter how predictable, can stifle. It's called chemistry, but it's not the romantic kind. Instead, it's the power that each of them has to crack the other up.
Steve Carell and Tina Fey bring their estimable comic chops to "Date Night," which sadly illustrates the current disparity between television and big-screen comedy. These talented performers star in two of the wittiest, most sophisticated sitcoms on the air, but for this movie pairing they're stuck with an endlessly silly plot line and overblown physical mayhem that is instantly forgettable. The fact that they make it so funny nonetheless is a testament to their abilities.
Though it often defaults to flailing slapstick wedded to rote action, Date Night occasionally stumbles onto moments of emotional honesty when the subterranean currents of resentment and boredom in Fey and Carell's marriage puncture the surface. In one of the film's sharpest gags, Franco and Kunis' flat-lining relationship woes serve as a funhouse-mirror reflection of Fey and Carell's own issues, except in the younger couple's case, they involve handjobs in champagne rooms instead of driving kids to soccer practice. Yet whenever the film threatens to develop real comic momentum or pathos, it grinds to a halt for arbitrary thriller mechanics that recall the glut of gratuitous diamond-smuggling comedy subplots of the 1980s. There's something genuine and more than a little sad at the core of Levy's poorly staged, modestly amusing comedy, but it isn't the part that involves flash drives, blackmail, and glowering, gun-toting bad guys.
Intent on touching as many cinematic bases as possible, Date Night contrives some awkward and self-consciously poignant moments between Phil and Claire and the kind of super-elaborate car chase Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn would have had no part of. It's as if there are so few movies for adults made these days the filmmakers want to make sure no one in the theater feels left out. None of this would be troublesome except for the knowledge of how funny Carell and Fey are when the film is smart enough to use them well. This is vividly demonstrated in the outrageous gag reel outtakes placed at both the beginning and the end of the final credits. When we see what these two can do, the feeling is inescapable that Date Night has left some laughs on the table.