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The Fosters are in a rut.  Phil and Claire have two kids, a nice house in the ‘burbs, two sensible, steady jobs and they belong to a book club with a circle of married friends.  In other words, the Fosters are, as Claire puts it, “a boring married couple from Jersey.”  Even their weekly date night is routine, consisting of potato skins and salmon at the local tavern.  As they witness the demise of the marriage of a couple of pals, Phil and Claire begin to question what their own relationship has become and are determined to change it, amp it up one date night at a time.  To this end, Claire gets gussied up and Phil eschews the weekly potato skins for a spontaneous night in the big city at a popular restaurant Claire read about in a magazine.  After feeling the sting of rejection by the snobbish door staff, Phil and Claire purloin the reservation of a no-show couple, the Tripplehorns.  Who could it hurt, right?  It’s this petty identity theft that will find them pursued all over Manhattan by some gun-toting characters looking for the real Tripplehorns.  The mild-mannered Jersey couple is in way over their heads and unable to trust the local police, so they initiate their own hunt for the actual Tripplehorns and try get back to the safety of the Garden State without getting killed.

Like I said, not exactly thought-provoking stuff, but thanks to its cast, more fun than it sounds.  Date Night is a comedy caper in the mode of 1979’s Foul Play with Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase or 1983’s Trading Places with Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd.  The premise of ordinary folks sunk in an outrageous and often life-threatening situation has made audiences laugh for decades and the scenario is made fresh with the whiplash smart humour of Date Night’s two stars, Tina Fey and Steve Carell.  These two comedy satellites have circled each other for years on their respective television shows {Fey’s 30 Rock and Carell’s The Office}, joining here to elevate this slight vehicle to a height it wouldn’t have obtained otherwise.  The wisdom in casting Fey and Carell together is in the perfect symmetry of their humour; both are best at reeling off lines of sharp, urbane wit, yet are so likeable that neither is above slapstick, a must for Date Night’s level of light-hearted absurdity.  They have a sweetness that makes you care about their Jersey married couple, making the film’s awkwardly inserted emotional moments tolerable, but nailing the archness of scenes like their weekly game of making up wicked life stories and dialog for unsuspecting diners in their vicinity and their second wiser infiltration of the snobby bistro.  Claire and Phil’s “audition” at an underground strip club is pure silliness that works in Fey and Carell’s unselfconscious hands.  Date Night is blessed by the amount of evident improv that both stars incorporate brilliantly.  The supporting cast is clearly up for whatever is thrown at them, particularly Mark Wahlberg, with a physique hearkening back to his Calvin Klein days, playing a security expert and former realty client of Claire’s whose rippling muscles refuse to be contained by a shirt.  Wahlberg’s laid-back man-of-the-world is a perfect foil for the panicked jitters of Phil Foster, who doesn’t appreciate his wife’s acquaintance with this helpful hunk, or his virile, high-paying lifestyle.  James Franco and Mila Kunis are the Tripplehorns, a pair of trashy, low-class criminals whose devotion to each other despite their drug use, thievery and prostitution is a life lesson to the Fosters.  J.B. Smoove is also amusing in a small role as a taxi driver who gets pulled, literally, into the Foster’s wild escape ride.  My one issue with casting was the lack of Ray Liotta.  When you’ve got Liotta in your movie, use him well and often.  Liotta’s presence in any film creates an expectation that something - we don’t know what - but something big is going to happen, and sadly this momentum was not met.  Attention, director Shawn Levy, more Liotta in the sequel. 

Thanks to the bottomless wells of comedy gold that are Tina Fey and Steve Carell, Date Night turns in its share of laugh out loud moments.  This fond return to the comedy capers of years ago owes everything to the wit and sharp improv skills of its stars.  It’s their likeability and charm that brings the audience along for the fun and silliness of one wild Date Night.

 

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

April 9th, 2010

 

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  20th Century Fox)

 

 

 

 

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