DATE NIGHT movie review by Mark Walters

DATE NIGHT movie review by Mark Walters

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Steve Carell and Tina Fey are individually comic forces to be reckoned with.  Carell has solidified himself as the laugh-garnering star on NBC’s hit series THE OFFICE, but has also proven his diversity on the big screen with strong comedic performances in movies like THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN, and effectively serious roles in movies like LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE.  Tina Fey transcended the normal limitations of a sketch writer on Saturday Night Live, moving up to regular cast member, and eventually moving on to her own TV series with 30 ROCK.  Putting these two together on screen as a husband and wife team seems like not only a natural fit, but perhaps a match made in comedy heaven.  In the new film DATE NIGHT, director Shawn Levy (NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM 1 and 2) does his best to juggle the two personalities, amidst some rather wacky antics.

Phil (Carell) and Claire Foster (Fey) are the typical American married couple.  They’re middle aged, raising a couple of kids, working hard at their jobs, and having to plan a specific “date night” just to spend some obligatory time together.  In short, they’re in a rut, though one neither of them would admit to being bored of.  Even finding the energy or drive to initiate sex seems like too much.  During one of their routine date nights, Phil and Claire head to one of the most expensive and posh restaurants in the city, only to be told they’re never going to get a table.  But Phil wants this night to be special, and really show Claire a memorable time.  In an act of desperation, he takes the reservation of a no-show couple.  They get their table, eat a fantastic meal, take in plenty of wine, and genuinely have a wonderful time… until two strange men show up (calling them by the reservation name) and escort them out back.  There the men pull guns on Phil and Claire, asking for a flash drive, and it becomes clear that this case of mistaken identity may have in fact turned deadly.  After narrowly escaping their impending doom, our couple makes it to the police station, only to find out the two thugs who attacked them are cops!  Now they must run for their lives, and do the only thing left to do – find the flash drive and the couple they impersonated, and hopefully escape the danger they unwittingly ended up in.

This is one of those movies you’ve seen many times before in other forms, perhaps with slightly different storytelling.  The whole mistaken identity couple running away from danger is a theme that works well with both drama and comedy films.  Now granted, the wrong pairing of actors can really screw that formula up, but the right pairing can mean theatrical gold.  While DATE NIGHT isn’t anything revolutionary, it’s a consistently entertaining amusement ride at the movies, and one that works on enough levels to forgive its weaker aspects.  Carell and Fey bring their comic strengths to the screen with flawless ease, essentially showing us the familiar style we’re used to seeing from them, only adding a married couple feeling to the mix.  It may not be the most believable or seamless pairing we’ve seen in this type of fare, but it still works on several levels.  I almost equate their performances more to really good sketch comedy than really good acting.  That’s not to say they make bad leads, their actually quite enjoyable together.  But what makes a film like this really work is the combination of memorable side characters, and the effectiveness of the antics our heroes find themselves dropped into.

The side characters here include a buff and shirtless former client of Claire’s named Holbrooke (Mark Wahlberg), who happens to be a security expert that can help our couple find what they need; a well-meaning police detective (Taraji P. Henson) who senses more than meets the eye is going on; an eccentric District Attorney (the always entertaining William Fichtner); a stereotypical mob boss (Ray Liotta); and of course the real instigators who attracted the thugs to begin with (James Franco and Mila Kunis).  DATE NIGHT has a nice mix of recognizable and capable actors, all of whom seem to be having fun with their respective characters.  There’s even some rather funny cameos by G4’s Attack of the Show queen Olivia Munn and music superstar Will i Am.  Sometimes good comedies can excel their own normal limitations by combining the right names in the cast, and this is certainly an example of how that theory can strengthen an otherwise all-too-familiar screenplay.

We’re also treated to what is perhaps one of the most hilarious car chases ever filmed, some great examples of out-of-touch middle-agers in an all-too-hip world, and a rather awkward and certainly bizarre strip tease.  DATE NIGHT blends all of these elements together for a fun and pleasing ride.  Again, it’s not going to blow you away, and it’s probably not the best work to come from either of the two stars, but it is solid entertainment in today’s uncertain big screen times.

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started Bigfanboy.com, which has become one of the Dallas film community’s leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and Bigfanboy.com regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.