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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look69.23%
Average: 20.51%
Pretty Bad: 5.13%
Total Crap: 5.13%

5 reviews, 9 user ratings

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Date Night
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by Erik Childress

"Don't Let The Shawn Levy Tag Sway You"
4 stars

We often hear of actors and filmmakers alike of varying talents elevating certain material to levels to more deserving of the project’s original intentions. Sometimes it is an character actor or moviestar with enough charisma or an ability to surprise with quirky choices and steal a film out from under its flaws and limitations. Occasionally a director, perhaps away from their comfort zone as a studio-for-hire can infuse an otherwise predictable bit of mainstream fluff with a style unique to their strengths. Shawn Levy is not a director that has ever (nor may ever) fit into that category. Studio-for-hire, yes, on the Fox lot with such low-rent comedies as Just Married and Cheaper By The Dozen, and a perfect example of just the opposite. Look no further than his Night at the Museum films to see real potential squandered by stunted directorial ineptitude. Now those films were filled front-to-back with talented comic actors and were left to dangle on their own improvisations and reaction shots to big special effects scenes filmed with no panache by Levy. As luck would have it though, he was handed a gift in the opportunity to work with two of the leading comedic performers in the biz today. The big-screen pairing of the stars of NBC’s back-to-back one-two punch of the best comedies on television, The Office and 30 Rock, could almost direct itself. Delighted am I to report though that even with the occasional rough patch, when Date Night works, it really works.

Phil (Carell) and Claire (Fey) are a married-with-children suburban couple whose only respite from the daily grind of work as a banker and real estate agent is the routine of date night. The same restaurant. The same food. But they do have fun creating backstories of their fellow couples (a la Michael Douglas and Robert Downey Jr. in Wonder Boys.) Even sex has become an option where the fast version is strictly “uptown.” Trying to spice up their marriage one evening, they do go downtown. Into the city, that is, for a chance to get into a classy new seafood place where reservations are impossible. Determined not to let the night go to waste, Phil announces themselves as “the Tripplehorns” and takes the absentee couple’s table.

Things take a more sobering turn though when a pair of goons (Jimmi Simpson & Common) show up under the misconception they are this other couple. Threatening them at gunpoint with keywords such as ransom, aliases and flash drive, Phil & Claire now must go on the run. Detective Arroyo (Taraji P. Henson) hears their story but things get further complicated at the police station leaving them with the over-their-heads plan of getting the goons precisely what they want and solving this web of deception that somehow leads back to mobster Ray Liotta. Their adventure leads to chases, gunfire and encounters with a former client of Claire's (Mark Wahlberg) whose amateur status as a superspy is matched only by the flaunting of his pecs and the Tripplehorns themselves (James Franco & Mila Kunis).

On paper the whole concept is ridiculous and the knee-jerk reaction is to ask why superstars of any field would not wait for a project more fitting of their unique and intelligent comic styles. Carell and Fey though continue to prove that they can hold our attention with a combination of goofball wit, impeccable timing and a direct commitment to the stories they are trying to tell with their characters. Before they are forced into a chase picture, credit everyone with setting up a portrait of a married couple stuck in neutral that, if continued, might have been a real standout on the resumes of all involved. Compare the first fifteen minutes to something along the same lines, like Couples Retreat, and ask yourself whom you are more empathetic and ready to ride along with through whatever goofy machinations are in store for them. Carell and Fey have more than just precise comic chemistry. They are believable as in these archetypal roles as well and make them believable.

We sense actual jealousy in the already very funny scenes with Wahlberg. When they fight there is a palpable sense of a history that is rare when a screenwriter wants to punch-up comic banter just to introduce a spat to bridge scenes. Screenwriter Josh Klausner in those early scenes and the moments where they are eye-to-eye communicating their frustrations, does these characters and the actors justice by preventing them from turning into one-note screamers, fleeing at every turn. He also does well by the too-brief appearances of Kristen Wiig and Mark Ruffalo as the separating couple that feeds into Claire & Phil’s worst fears of stability. There’s a real clever streak in having the episodic nature of the script turn into encounters with other relationships from the stale to the raw sex appeal of Wahlberg and his Eurobabe and ultimately the low-class couple responsible for the evening’s events. Franco is absolutely killer in his moments trading insults with Carell which lead to two or three of the film’s most off-kilter and instantly quotable lines. Planned or improvised, the pseudo shout-out to the show Big Love is both the film’s best callback gag and a unique innuendo towards Date Night’s underlying nuptial politics.

Date Night is not a perfect comedy by any stretch. It’s more of a homogenized version of Martin Scorsese’s After Hours and it would have been interesting to see the same material given the R-rated edge by a filmmaker not constrained by his PG-13-level comfort zone. At only 87 minutes the pace is brisk enough to move from one comic meeting to the next and while not always going the full nine, Klausner’s script doesn’t corner itself into the trap of not allowing the victims time to explain their intentions before being cutoff. Date Night’s one action standout wannabe, a combo car chase (you’ll see what I mean) should have been a gold standard set piece along the lines of the foot-through-the-windshield chase of Pineapple Express. Instead Levy botches the visuals, the geography and anything else a chase scene requires. It is the one moment where Carell and Fey are out of their element and they needed a director able to take control of the genre. It’s hard to criticize Levy too much for allowing a strip club scene for going on a bit too long where he has a pair of comic superstars giving him something in every take. When Date Night works though it is very funny and there’s the sense, that like the best of marriages, there is a true sense of collaboration along the way.

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originally posted: 04/09/10 15:00:00
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User Comments

3/07/11 Luisa Hilarious!! 4 stars
2/28/11 Sabaka Good if you need something to put you to sleep. 2 stars
2/27/11 millersxing After big laughs and big cameos, were you expecting Jeanne Tripplehorn? 4 stars
12/05/10 DUKE7734 LAME...I dont get the appeal of FEY and CARELL?? 2 stars
8/26/10 art THUMB"S DOWN to this JUNK! 1 stars
5/29/10 Melissa Cute movie for a date night. Enjoyed it. 4 stars
4/26/10 art SUCK"S! 1 stars
4/14/10 jethro Olivia Munn? here's to rob learning the difference between comedy and scripted lameness. 3 stars
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  09-Apr-2010 (PG-13)
  DVD: 10-Aug-2010

  21-Apr-2010 (15)

  08-Apr-2010 (M)
  DVD: 10-Aug-2010

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