With Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg. Rated PG-13 for sexual and crude content throughout, language, some violence and a drug reference. 88 minutes.
At long last we get DATE NIGHT, the first laugh-out-loud comedy of the year. Yes, it shamelessly rips off everything from “The Out-Of-Towners” to “After Hours” to “North By Northwest,” but who cares? It’s a comedy that the twenty-somethings can enjoy for the cartoonish elements (not even knowing the films it’s stealing from) and that “grown-ups” can enjoy for the character comedy.
Phil and Claire Foster (Steve Carell and Tina Fey) are a boring middle-aged married couple from New Jersey. They love each other but their marriage has fallen into routine, more focused on doing their jobs and raising their kids than in taking time out for themselves. Even their “date night,” when they get a baby sitter and go out to dinner, is all too predictable. They’re upset when friends of theirs announce they are getting divorced because, as the husband puts it, they’ve become little more than “good roommates.” So Phil proposes they shake things up a bit and go into Manhattan to dine at the hottest, trendiest restaurant in town, even though they don’t have reservations.
At this point domestic sitcom turns into farce as they are mistaken for two thieves who have stolen something valuable from a local mobster (an uncredited Ray Liotta). They are soon battling rogue cops, breaking and entering, having high speed chases, and even performing in a sex club. They wanted something to jolt them out of their complacency, and they get it in spades.
It’s pure nonsense, but the film has so much going for it that you don’t care. For one thing, at a tight 88 minutes there’s no downtime or padding. Once it gets going this film moves. For another, Carell and Fey might seem like stunt casting, but they turn out to have wonderful chemistry together, each getting their laughs while setting up the other. Let’s hope they’re signed up for more movies together. You see what assets they are to the film in the outtakes at the end, where both were encouraged to improvise and ad-lib, with the choices being made in the editing room.
This is also a film with all sorts of people popping up and scoring in small pivotal roles, from Mark Ruffalo and Kristin Wiig as the unhappy couple to singer Will.i.Am in a cameo to Mila Kunis and James Franco as a pair of clueless thieves. Best of all is Mark Wahlberg as a former client of realtor Claire who greets everyone shirtless, which becomes a running joke. Wahlberg plays his character absolutely straight which make it all the funnier.
By the end of “Date Night,” the story might seem to be spinning out of control, but amazingly it all ties together perfectly, with both the Fosters and the audience left with big smiles on their faces. “Date Night” won’t change your life or shed much light on the human condition. All it wants to do is make you laugh, and in that it succeeds admirably.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.