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5 reviews, 9 user ratings

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Date Night
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Something Mild"
4 stars

The idea of seeing nice, normal Yuppie types taken out of their well-manicured cocoons and plunged into the wildness of the big city is a conceit that has spawned some truly brilliant films (such as Martin Scorsese’s painfully underrated 1985 masterpiece “After Hours” and John Landis‘ equally overlooked 1985 effort “Into the Night‘) and some truly horrible ones (such as the various incarnations of Neil Simon’s “The Out-of-Towners” and the borderline racist “Adventures in Babysitting”). “Date Night,” the latest film to invoke this particular scenario, falls somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. On the one hand, it is a very funny film with plenty of big laughs and winning chemistry between co-stars Steve Carrell and Tina Fey and for those reasons alone, it is definitely worth seeing. On the other hand, as funny as it is, it lacks that final burst of creativity that might have transformed it from a successful comedy into a truly inspired one. And yet, while it may not be the most ambitious comedy that you will see anytime soon, it will have you laughing a lot and it almost seems a little silly to complain about what it doesn’t do when it does what it does so well.

Carrell and Fey star as Phil and Claire Foster, a nice, boring New Jersey couple whose marriage has settled into a quietly monotonous rut of exhaustion and routine. Upon hearing of the impending divorce of a seemingly happy neighbor couple, the two decide to spice up their weekly date night away from the house and kids by driving into Manhattan and dining at an ultra-trendy restaurant. When they are unable to get a table, Phil impulsively claims that they are an absent couple, the Tripplehorns, in order to snag their reservation. Before long, however, a couple of goons (Common and Jimmi Simpson) order the couple, who they believe to be the Tripplehorns, from the restaurant and threaten them with grievous bodily harm if they don’t cough up a much-wanted flash drive right then and there. Phil and Claire manage to escape but this proves to be only the first of a long string of complications that will find them encountering an uncomprehending cop (Taraji P. Hanson), a perpetually shirtless security expert (Mark Wahlberg) who inflames Phil’s jealousy, a stoner couple with relationship issues (James Franco and Mila Kunis), a perpetually sneering mob boss (Ray Liotta) and a district attorney (William Fichtner) who is close enough in spirit to Elliot Spitzer that he probably deserves a royalty every time this movie is shown.

The central problem with “Date Night” is that once the filmmakers have established its basic premise of a couple whose date night goes all to hell, it seems as if they decided that their work was over when it should have just been getting started. A more ambitious film would have taken that premise and given it a new twist that would have hopefully allowed it to spin off into new and intriguing directions--this is the path that the aforementioned “After Hours“ took and it is one of the reasons why it succeeded as well as it did.. Here, it quickly becomes evident that screenwriter and director Shawn Levy, the auteur of such hard-sell entertainments as the “Night at the Museum” films, have decided to eschew that final twist and simply go for the easy Level One approach. Instead of speculating on what might actually happen if an ordinary couple tried to jazz up their marriage with a night on the town, only to be weirded out or entranced by how much faster, stranger, louder and sexier things had become in the time since they settled down, it might have inspired a comedy that offered up a lot of laughs and possibly something deeper to boot. Instead, we get a bunch of silliness involving corrupt cops and gangsters that couldn’t be less interesting if it tried and lengthy action sequences involving gunplay and car chases that appear to have been lifted wholesale out of any number of recent anonymous action comedies of recent vintage. By the time it arrives at its climax, a rooftop rumble featuring dozens of people pointing guns at each other with helicopters swirling around over their, it feels as if our heroes have inadvertently stumbled into the final reel of some dumb action movie and wind up getting virtually subsumed by the chaos.

These are the things that would sink most ordinary movies but miraculously, “Date Night” manages to survive them and that is almost entirely due to the efforts of Steve Carrell and Tina Fey, who pretty much carry the entire film on the shoulders. Although there is always a certain amount of danger in taking two established comedians and trying to turn them into a team--done improperly, you are left with two comedic personas that refuse to mesh while battling each other to come across as the “funny” one--the pairing of Carrell and Fey is so inspired that one wonders why it took so long to bring them together. For starters, they play beautifully off of each other and quickly set up a rhythm between them that is so effective that they actually manage to establish themselves in our eyes as a credible married couple. For another, they both possess enough comedic chops to make the good material shine and the weaker material seem better than it is through both their delivery and, to judge by the outtakes that play during the end credits, their ability to evidently improvise on what they have been given in order to make it better. Most importantly, they are generous performers who are willing to cede the spotlight to each other, not to mention the inspired supporting cast (Wahlberg practically steals the entire movie with a hilarious self-parody of his pec-heavy persona and James Franco and Mila Kunis are hilarious in their big scene) instead of always trying to steal the focus for themselves. The end result is one of the more inspired comic pairings to hit the big screen in a while and I hope that someone has the bright idea to reteam them again in the future.

“Date Night” is not a great comedy by any stretch of the imagination--even at its best, it never quite achieves the levels of manic inspiration that one might find in even an average episode of “The Office” or “30 Rock” and Levy’s direction is so pedestrian at times that you keep wishing that a filmmaker with genuine comedic chops would wander in to tap him out and take over the reins. That said, while it may not be a great comedy, it is certainly a good one that contains several enormous laughs and a healthy number of smaller ones as well and in the wake of such recent laugh-free comedies as “Cop Out,” “The Bounty Hunter” and “Hot Tub Time Machine,” that along makes it worthwhile. “Date Night” may not know all the secrets of how to make a great comedy film but it knows enough of them to provide viewers with 90 minutes of solid, if not especially spectacular, entertainment--exactly the kind of film that a couple like the Fosters might enjoy at the end of a long day .

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=19420&reviewer=389
originally posted: 04/09/10 01:00:00
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User Comments

3/07/11 Luisa Hilarious!! 4 stars
2/27/11 Sabaka Good if you need something to put you to sleep. 2 stars
2/26/11 millersxing After big laughs and big cameos, were you expecting Jeanne Tripplehorn? 4 stars
12/04/10 DUKE7734 LAME...I dont get the appeal of FEY and CARELL?? 2 stars
8/25/10 art THUMB"S DOWN to this JUNK! 1 stars
5/28/10 Melissa Cute movie for a date night. Enjoyed it. 4 stars
4/25/10 art SUCK"S! 1 stars
4/13/10 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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