Film Review: Date Night

2010 – 88mn - 15

Directed by Shawn Levy. Starring Steve Carrell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg, Ray Liotta, James Franco, Mila Kunis, Common, Jimmy Simpson.

Review by Walter Nichols

PHIL and Claire Foster (Steve Carrell and Tina Fey) are a boring married couple from New Jersey. He’s a tax accountant; she’s a real estate broker. They have two kids, a non-existent sex life, and a weekly date night, always held over salmon and potatoes at the local restaurant. When they learn that their best friends are getting divorced, they decide to make more of an effort, and move date night to an exclusive restaurant in downtown Manhattan. It’s so exclusive, in fact, that they can’t get a reservation. So they pretend to be the Tripplehorns, whose reservation is going unclaimed. But the Tripplehorns are wanted by two thugs who work for New York’s crime boss. These thugs mistake the Fosters for the real Tripplehorns. Car chases, shootouts, and duck-out-of-water comedy ensue.

Two decades ago, Date Night would have starred Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn. It would’ve been branded a minor classic, to be enjoyed over and over again on home video and weekend television. In other words, the cinematic equivalent of a warm, comfortable pair of old slippers. The kind that tickle giggles out of you.

Date Night doesn’t, in any way, reinvent the wheel. But then again, no one is asking it to. It’s light, silly, engaging screwball fun. It’s not wall-to-wall laughs like, say, The Hangover, but it never leaves you bored or disappointed either. It’s competently made, surprisingly full of physical action, and once it gets started the pace never slackens. It’s never too predictable, and even packs a twist or two and the odd emotional moment in-between the laughs. All the name actors playing bit parts (and the film is packed with them) do their job well and conscientiously.

Mostly, though, you’ll have come to see Steve Carrell and Tina Fey. They deliver the goods and then some. Their portrayal of a couple stuck in a rut is spot-on and relatable, and their chemistry is as good as can be expected. The pair spark off each other and make the most of every single line, every single situation, with ceaselessly perfect timing. Carrell can make any word – especially the rude ones – sound funny, and no one has milked such comic gold out of gaucheness since Peter Sellers. Tina Fey, simply, has the best, wittiest deadpan delivery of anyone doing comedy today, anywhere.

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These are comedy performers at the top of their game. They’re intelligent, unpretentious and likable. They understand how to time, set up and play a joke. Their craft is honed, and that says more than it used to in this age when what stands for comedy is too often little more than quirky faces with quirky voices improvising penis jokes.

In every way, Date Night is a good old-fashioned time at the movies, zippy and entertaining – no more, no less. It’ll work with a date, it’ll work with a long-time partner, it’ll work with a bunch of friends, and it’ll work if you’re on your own.

3 and a half stars (out of 5)