Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Love: Date Night

Last Saturday, you'd have been better off throwing down the money for a late night movie ticket to Date Night than watching Tina Fey host SNL.  The SNL was a festival of awkward invested too heavily in spotlighting Fey, prodding young Justin Bieber, and the success of the predictable Sarah Palin sketch.  That's what happens lately on the show, they get a real comedian and the cast and host seem to be locked in some sort of power struggle in which nobody really wins.  So, Fey winds up unfortunately sinking on SNL and shining alongside Steve Carell in silly rom-com buddy action flick Date Night.  Who would have thought? The film revolves around a simple, fluffy premise; boring couple Claire & Phil Foster (Fey and Carell) from New Jersey try to spice up their predictable, vanilla marriage by stealing someone else's dinner reservation at a Manhattan hot spot and suffer a case of mistaken identity that sees them pursued by a big time mobster (Ray Liotta) and wrapped up in political scandal.  It's a frothy story with a relatively blase script, nothing you haven't seen before and nothing you won't see again.  Yet, as you watch Fey and Carell dodge bullets, awkwardly pole dance, and engage in grand theft auto, something magical happens: you like them, you really like them.
Granted, I love Tina Fey and Steve Carell regardless, but Date Night is a winning comedy because the two Second City alums have got chemistry.  They know their roles and they stick to them.  You can easily believe them as a couple, and their reactions to the events of the evening are as comical as they are relatively natural.  They share a timing and an understated madcap quality that transforms the illogical, ridiculous script into something you're experiencing as ridiculous with them instead of wondering why the hell they're stupid enough to keep digging themselves in deeper.  They're just a tax attorney and a real estate agent watching the marriages of their friends deteriorate and doing something charmingly out of character.  Director Shawn Levy, who has previously helmed the Night at the Museum films, got lucky when he cast his two leads.  Where he provides episodic action sequences and high speed sight gags, it's their improvisational skills and can-do attitudes that spin mediocre idiocy into pure comic gold.  Well, that and the always shirtless, self-mockery of Mark Wahlberg, who wins laughs literally just by exposing his pecs and speaking Hebrew in the midst of marital awkwardness.
Carell and Fey could probably keep an entire movie afloat with their reaction shots alone, but here they offer up more than that.  Is it a great movie?  Certainly not.  Is it a worthy distraction? Absolutely. You'll get more for your money here than you will from a pre-summer would-be blockbuster like Clash of the Titans.  Date Night is a simple, 2D, ensemble comedy that's charming and elicits laughs out of situations that, if they involved anyone else, would be cringe-worthy schlock.  The supporting cast, from James Franco and Mila Kunis as the real bumbling criminal couple, to Kristen Wiig's short appearance and J.B. Smoove's expressive cab driver, may not do much, but they do enough.  If Carell and Fey are the future of the dying Hollywood rom com, I'm 100% for it.  They can shove (and shove hard) Katherine Heigl out of the way any day of the week and I'll keep my fingers crossed for a smart, understated script to drift their directions and take them out of their comfort zones.  We'll be seeing more of them.  That much is certain.

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