11 April 2010 | MisterWhiplash
better, or maybe just funnier, than expected thanks to the two leads and some supporting work
The director Shawn Levy sadly doesn't inspire a lot of enthusiasm going into one of his movies. At best he's competent at what he does, and some years back made a halfway clever and original 'movie'-comedy (Big Fat Liar), but mostly has kept to Fox studio commercialism like Cheaper by the Dozen and the Night at the Museum movies. And yet, he (or just the studio) must have had the insight to put together two of the funniest people working right now- not to mention with shows back-to-back on Thursday nights on NBC- Steve Carrel and Tina Fey, because they help elevate anyone's work by a longshot. This isn't to say that Josh Klausner's script may not have some laughs, but where exactly I can't be sure, since most of his contributions would appear to come from the super-conventional story aspects (as my own mother put it, "I don't know, looks like The Out of Towners, or that Blind Date movie from the 80's").
So yeah, basic premise, married couple looking for a little change (their friends are splitting up), go out to 'The City' (NYC of course) and to a very nice restaurant. In a move that could come out of a Seinfeld episode, they can't get a reservation so Carrel overhears a waitress calling for someone else for a reservation and he decides they should take it since they're no-shows. The "Tripplehorns", as it turns out, have some shady dealings with some bad dues with guns, and so the Fosters, our confused heroes, go on the run in the city. Whenever the movie focuses on the core plot of all of this, it's by the numbers stuff, save for a climax that ratchets up the absurdity of everyone involved (including good actors playing decent-to-mediocre baddies like William Fichtner and Ray Liotta).
It's when Fey and Carrel are allowed to play loose with the script that it strikes the iron. Their timing is impeccable, and they have chemistry together, which is crucial. And when they come across some other supporting characters, like Mark Wahlberg's (VERY) shirtless ex-military guy with all of his high-tech equipment, or the "real" Tripplehorns played by James Franco and Mila Kunis, there's further hilarity that ensues from the interactions and precise timing. That's all you need sometimes in a comedy that's based in formula, is two character to at least semi care about (and, perhaps more wisely than a Hollywood rom-com can be given credit for, it has painfully normal characters here, nothing too complicated), and who are funny in semi-funny situations. Even a ridiculous car chase where the Fosters hit a cab and the two are connected bumper to bumper through the streets is funny just because of the acting. Given the right mood and timing they could read a census report and get a few chuckles from the pauses and inflections.
So, if you're looking for something masterfully done, look elsewhere. If you just want to see two stars who are funny be funny almost despite some of the limitations in the script, Date Night deserves a chance. At the least you get to see the two show off their "skills" in a strip-club scene, and, did I mention Mark Whalberg doesn't have on a shirt?