A Surprisingly Satisfying 'Date' Movie

Steve Carell, Tina Fey

hide captionExpecting The Unexpected: Tina Fey and Steve Carell star as Claire and Phil Foster, a happily married but bored couple who experience a very wild night out on the town.

Myles Aronowitz

Date Night

  • Director: Shawn Levy
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Running Time: 88 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sexual and crude content throughout, language, some violence and a drug reference.

With: Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg

The adhesive anti-snoring strip on Steve Carell's nose as he snoozes beside Tina Fey in the opening moments of Date Night is worrying.

You may wonder: Is this going to be an anti-snoring-strip kind of movie? Is this couple mired in the lamented suburban, sexless ennui of movie parents — ennui that can only be cured by battling incompetent criminals? Are Phil and Claire Foster going to be bickering, grim domestic grunts until their mutual passions are implausibly revived by gunplay and karaoke?

But then they go out to dinner together, and he offers to pick up a present for some kid's party or another — "Nothing from China, nothing with batteries," she says casually — and it becomes clear that they're a team. By the time they're making up stories about people at other tables to crack each other up (a clever way to give Fey and Carell early chances to riff in the way they do best), you know they have a good marriage. They're not unhappy; they're busy.

They just want to have a little more fun, which is how they wind up swiping a restaurant reservation and being mistaken for another couple — one being pursued by villains, naturally. Will there be car chases? Cartoonish hooligans? Silly disguises? Of course, on all counts. Otherwise, you'd ask for your money back.

But Date Night ultimately rises well above its formulaic premise on the strength of the execution. Parts of it are dumb, and it loses a little steam at the end as the goofy plot is forcibly wrestled to a conclusion like a squealing pig at a county fair. But in an out-all-night comedy, if the laughs are there, the fact that it ends as every out-all-night comedy must — smudged makeup, torn clothes, a bleary-eyed breakfast — doesn't matter much. Ask anyone who enjoyed The Hangover. And Date Night provides solid laughs throughout.

Mila Kunis and James Franco i i

hide captionDouble Trouble: James Franco and Mila Kunis make a brief but brilliant appearance as the infamous couple responsible for the mayhem that ensues during Claire and Phil Foster's date night.

Suzanne Tenner
Mila Kunis and James Franco

Double Trouble: James Franco and Mila Kunis make a brief but brilliant appearance as the infamous couple responsible for the mayhem that ensues during Claire and Phil Foster's date night.

Suzanne Tenner

They're solid enough, in fact, that even potentially tired setups pay off. Consider Phil and Claire's book club: Naturally, it's entirely women, and Phil feels out of place. When one member dismisses his reaction to the book, saying, "You have no idea what it's like to be a teenage girl having your first period under Taliban rule," you know that's a joke someone worked on. That's not a caricature spitting, "You men are so insensitive!" because it's the shortest possible shorthand for Phil's discomfort; that's a constructed joke that gets an earned laugh.

While the underlying story of the Fosters' marriage takes a back seat to the comedy, when they touch on it, it works. Claire's discussion of her overstuffed life is surprisingly direct; it's rare that a married woman in a movie is allowed to admit that she fantasizes about what life might be like without her husband and kids — where her day, as she puts it, isn't about managing everyone else's day. Carell, in addition to being very good at awkward comedy, is a disarming romantic lead, and it's refreshing to see him flex those muscles without his charm being cut with pathos.

Director Shawn Levy, best known for the Night at the Museum movies, keeps the tone warm throughout and allows lots of room for Fey and Carell to inhabit people who are much like their basically well-intentioned characters on 30 Rock and The Office would be without her misanthropy and his social ineptitude.

Though it's headlined by two of television's most honored comedians, Date Night benefits from judicious use of its supporting cast. Mark Wahlberg, as a shirtless former client of Claire's, has nothing to do, really, but does it flawlessly, never nodding at the fact that his hulking, brooding form is funny in any way. William Fichtner is bizarre and marvelous, cranking up the squirreliest part of himself to play a dodgy politician.

Best of all, James Franco and Mila Kunis show up right around the time when a lesser movie might start to drag, and they absolutely kill in their scarce few minutes of screen time. This is the most dependably entertaining of Franco's many personas: the hyper, perpetually incredulous doofus. Despite the brevity of the appearance, it's never been put to better use.

Date Night isn't great; it's not really going for "great." But it's a well-executed comedy with a warm but not cloying center. Expect to see Fey and Carell in another movie together, because it's a pairing that flatters them both. And don't be fooled by the formula — it's satisfying in spite of itself.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: