Date Night

Movie Information

The Story: A dull married couple pretend to be other people to get dinner reservations, causing them to be mistaken for those people -- who just happen to be in bad with the mob. The Lowdown: The cast -- especially Steve Carell and Tina Fey -- raise this otherwise ordinary thrill comedy to the level of agreeable entertainment.
Genre: Thrill Comedy
Director: Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum)
Starring: Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg, Common, James Franco, Mila Kunis
Rated: PG-13

Date Night offers us a number of first-class passengers who have been packed into a Yugo of a movie. The passengers make the ride a reasonably pleasant one, but only because they’re willing to get out on occasion and push the vehicle up a hill. Nearly everyone in front of the camera makes the actions of those behind the camera appear to matter far less than they actually do, if you examine the movie in more than the most cursory manner. I say nearly everyone simply because I have yet to determine why Mark Ruffalo is even in this. I can only guess that—along with his role in Where the Wild Things Are last year—he’s vying for the title of Good Actor in the Largest Number of Pointless Cameos.

Trouble emerges at the very onset. This is one of those affairs where you have to slog through 15 minutes of setup (and the movie’s only 88 minutes long) to get to the story that was spelled out in approximately 30 seconds of trailer. Blame screenwriter Josh Klausner for this. Credit Steve Carell and Tina Fey as boring and bored married couple Phil and Claire Foster for making the slog more palatable than it has any right to be. (And smack whoever didn’t pick Fey’s “vagina” ad lib—seen in the outtakes at the end—instead of the flat line that’s in the finished film.) Carell and Fey have enough casual chemistry to keep the film appearing to be moving even when it’s stuck in exposition neutral.

Once the story itself begins, the film is on better ground. Phil pretends to be someone else in order to get reservations at a posh restaurant, leading to him and Claire being mistaken for a pair of low-rent blackmailers who’ve crossed a mob boss. The material here is fairly sharp for a while. One gag, in fact, involving their getaway by boat in Central Park is genuinely inspired. The key to a lot of this, though, is still Carell and Fey, who understand that this kind of thrill comedy—where the stars’ lives are endangered—only works if the performers play it straight. They can crack wise on occasion—which they do in a manner that’s reminiscent of the off-the-cuff style of Crosby and Hope—but they never forget that some sense of menace is essential. They always give the illusion of being genuinely scared.

The guest bits involving Mark Wahlberg, James Franco, Mila Kunis and an unbilled Ray Liotta work very nicely by giving the leads quality performers to play off. Again, it helps that Wahlberg and Liotta play it straight. Franco and Kunis do veer into the broad range—that is, they don’t play their roles subtle or straight (they reminded me of Ric Ocasek and Pia Zadora in John Waters’ 1988 Hairspray, except Franco and Kunis can act)—but that works with their characters. It also helps in that it gives Carell and Fey something to react to that’s even weirder than their perilous situation.

Yes, the film is pretty much a one-note affair in terms of plotting (even if the plot is agreeably convoluted). And it certainly errs by sticking an elaborate car chase into the proceedings—presumably because the screenwriter couldn’t think of anything else. However, on the relativity scale, it’s hard not to give the movie credit for being both funnier and more romantic than the execrable The Bounty Hunter. And even though it’s pitched toward high-concept comedy, it makes a better comment on marital ennui than Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too. You could add that it’s also the best movie Shawn Levy’s ever made, but that’s really damning it with faint praise. On its own merits, it’s just OK. But the cast makes it worth the visit. Rated PG-13 for sexual and crude content throughout, language, some violence and a drug reference.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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6 thoughts on “Date Night

  1. Decent. Carrell and Fey are extremely agreeable leeds, Mark Wahlburg is funny (and shirtless) and it’s fairly funny a lot of the time. I can’t help feeling it would be more so if anyone other than Shawn Levy had directed it.

    Also, I’m not sure but it appeared to be shot on a combination of film and video and they didn’t cut together very well. This may be something else giving that effect, but something is weird here.

  2. Ken Hanke

    Also, I’m not sure but it appeared to be shot on a combination of film and video and they didn’t cut together very well.

    I didn’t notice it. I also didn’t sit through the credits to see what it was shot on. For what it’s worth, the IMDb claims it was shot with the Panavision Genesis HD, which would mean it’s all video.

  3. Jay

    I agree with Jeremy–sometimes it looked very video-y, and other times it looked normal.

  4. Ken Hanke

    All I’m saying is that there’s nothing in the production information to indicate that it wasn’t all shot on HD.

  5. I don’t doubt that, more that something went iffy in post. There are shots that have been graded well and look like 35mm and there are shots that look like video – sometimes within the same scene. And the movement looks like different frame rates in the stuff that looks like video also.

  6. Jay

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