Mark Reviews Movies

DATE NIGHT

2  Stars (out of 4)

Director: Shawn Levy

Cast: Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg, Taraji P. Henson, Jimmi Simpson, Common, William Fichtner, Leighton Meester, Kristen Wiig, Mark Ruffalo, James Franco, Mila Kunis

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sexual and crude content throughout, language, some violence and a drug reference)

Running Time: 1:28

Release Date: 4/9/10


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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 8, 2010

Two comedians walk into a thriller. The thriller goes about its business, while the comedians improvise some witty one-liners.

There's a strange discrepancy between the two most important parts of Date Night. On the one hand, the movie presents the old standby thriller plot of mistaken identity with the supporting and ancillary characters playing their roles with sincerity toward that end (with a couple exceptions). The good cops investigate. The bad cops hunt and shoot. The mob leader threatens. The politician corrupts his office.

On the other, the movie puts Steve Carell and Tina Fey in the roles of the wrongfully identified couple. The two are funny enough as a couple whose marriage has lost its spark and find themselves in an outlandish series of misadventures after a relatively innocent attempt to have a nice night out in New York City. They bicker and comment on the goings-on around them, in lines one might suspect are unscripted and which the outtakes at the end confirm mostly are.

The two aims of Date Night never merge into one. Both sides do their thing, and each seems an annoyance to the other.

After a night of book club, the Fosters, Phil and Claire (Carell and Fey), learn that one of their married-couple friends (Mark Ruffalo and Kristen Wiig, in the first of a few nicely casted cameos that just happen to be credited) have separated. Fearing a similar fate, Phil decides to take his wife out on the town to a fancy restaurant she's always wanted to try.

Being a Friday night and without having booked reservations in advance, Phil and Claire are relegated to the bar, where Phil impulsively takes the table of another couple who has skipped out on their booking. Unfortunately, a couple of goons (Jimmi Simpson and Common) are looking for this no-show couple, who have stolen a flash drive with important, incriminating information from a mob boss (an uncredited cameo best left to be discovered).

The plot kicks into autopilot almost immediately, as the goons, corrupt cops, chase them around the city, another on-the-straight-and-narrow detective (Taraji P. Henson) tries to find out the details of the misunderstanding to help the Fosters, and the hunt for the MacGuffin of a flash drive brings the Fosters to all kinds of semi-kooky characters.

The movie gets its best moments from some of them. The appearance of the mob boss (not as big a cameo as one might expect, but he certainly has a rep for the gangster material) is worth a solid guffaw. Wiig's fantasies of a new sex life are the things of Claire's nightmares.  Mark Wahlberg appears in a few scenes as a security expert with high-tech computers. He is endlessly shirtless, a joke that's funny enough on its own without Phil's final, predictable plea to him (The laugh comes before the punchline).

Rounding the short appearances up are James Franco and Mila Kunis as the actual couple for whom everyone is looking, who are using the name the Foster's stole as a front anyway. Their scene, as a delinquent pair named Taste and Whippit, is the movie's funniest. The obvious distance between the two main thrusts of the movie shortens immeasurably in the scene. Yes, it's about the flash drive and, hence, the plot, but Carell and Fey and Franco and Kunis never admit such. In this scene, all four and director Shawn Levy recognize the thriller and its trappings are meaningless and simply let the actors have at it. For a moment, the movie is a comedy about how pointless the thriller angle is and not a thriller with a few funny bits thrown in here and there.

They are generally likeable and amusing, but for the most part, Carell and Fey are in a different movie altogether. Nothing happening around them appears to affect them. When one of the goons points a gun in his face, Carell jokes it up about how the thug is pointing the gun. While trying to find the blackmailers phone number on the restaurant's ledger, they assume a snooty guise and demeanor. In trying to talk with the corrupt politician (William Fichtner), they have to do a striptease and show just how out-of-touch their concept of sexy is and how deranged the politician's.  During the climactic rooftop showdown, the participants fight, and Carell pops his head in to crack wise about their macho statements of power.

Levy gives the movie a sleek grime common to an imposing, after-hours Big Apple, which highlights the divergence of material, and a chase scene with the Fosters' car attached to a cab is a bit embarrassing.

There's something inherently off in Date Night. It's as if Carell and Fey are playing Go Fish while almost everyone around them is playing Texas Hold 'Em.  It's an odd little movie but without the courage to be odd enough.

Copyright 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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