Andy Bockelman: Carell, Fey make ‘Date Night’ all right
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars
Running time: 88 minutes
Starring: Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg and Taraji P. Henson.
Heading out on the town with your significant other: fun and a good way to keep a marriage fresh. Zooming down the street in a sports car tangled around a taxi while being shot at: not so fun and possibly grounds for divorce.
Fortunately, not all of us have the worries of the couple in “Date Night.”
To hear them tell it, the Fosters (Steve Carell, Tina Fey) are an average, boring New Jersey couple. Tax attorney Phil and Realtor Claire love each other and their rambunctious kids (Jonathan Morgan Heit, Savannah Argenti), but even their Friday date night isn’t enough to spice up the same old, same old.
But Phil decides this week will be different, spontaneously whisking his lady love to a fancy Manhattan eatery. But without a reservation, the night isn’t going anywhere — until they take someone else’s.
And it turns out to be the wrong name to use, as a pair of goons (Jimmi Simpson, Common) begins threatening their lives for some highly confidential materials they know nothing about. As the night continues, Phil and Claire find themselves embroiled in a deadly game involving blackmail, corrupt figures and worse yet, a lot of fighting between the two of them.
It’s astounding to think that it took this long for Carell and Fey to be matched together onscreen, especially with their sitcoms already airing back to back on Thursday evening prime time. But when you want action, the weekend is clearly the best time as the least likely people in the world stumble through more perils than they could have ever dreamed, including a low-speed boat chase across a Central Park pond and the most awkward two-person pole dance ever caught on film.
But in between risking their lives, Phil and Claire have to take time to work out their issues, lest they wind up like their divorcing friends (Mark Ruffalo, Kristen Wiig).
James Franco and Mila Kunis are a hoot as Taste and Whippit, the pair of lowlifes who get the Fosters into the misunderstanding in the first place, possessing similar relationship strife.
The difference being that Claire doesn’t snort the chemicals out of empty whipped cream bottles, and Phil doesn’t have Claire’s face tattooed on his left pec.
Speaking of men without shirts, Mark Wahlberg is quietly charming as a former client of Claire’s who just happens to be a surveillance expert willing to lend a hand to get them out of the pickle in which they find themselves.
A case of mistaken identity and an incriminating flash drive — a piece of technology which Claire knows only as “a computer sticky thing” — make this a goofy, modern version of “North by Northwest,” though the stars here are no Cary Grant or Eva Marie Saint. But then again, that’s the point as Carell and Fey work their dweeby magic in a story that gets more outlandish by the second.
You’d expect nothing less from Shawn Levy, director of such testaments to wacky antics as “Night at the Museum” and “The Pink Panther,” though the characters seem more like older versions of those in his less memorable romantic comedy “Just Married.”
The stars here carry the movie, with scenes involving the Fosters mocking fellow diners under their breath remaining the funniest moments, but they stretch it out to the very end with the ad-libbed post-credit outtakes containing some of the best gags.
The most humorous thing about “Date Night” is how the fine comic performances outdo all the large-scale stunts involved in it. The makers probably could have saved a bundle on the budget if they had made something less grandiose like “Book Club Night,” as glimpsed in an early scene.
But hey, there’s always the sequel …