Let’s not beat around the bush: Date Night has a plot we’ve seen before. Two people are mistaken for someone else and they get thrown into a life and death adventure that ultimately causes them to realize that the simple, “boring” life they live is actually what they wanted all along. Basic plot; been done hundreds of times. But sometimes a basic plot is all that’s needed to generate a couple of hours of entertainment because this is one funny, funny movie.
It helps that director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum) has two of the best comic actors working as his leads. I can’t think a couple more suited to appear on screen as a couple than Steve Carrell and Tina Fey. After just this one film, plus a few awards show appearances, they’re a seasoned comedy team. I hope they do many more films together.
In Date Night, Carell and Fey are Phil and Claire, married, suburban parents who have settled into a routine family life. They’re to the point that they can get through each morning and night on auto pilot. Even their date nights have become mundane and predictable. When some friends reveal that they’re getting a divorce, Phil and Claire begin to question their own relationship, as couples are prone to do when people they’d never expect to break up do. They ask things like “Are we like that couple who are no longer in love and just really good room mates?” and “What can we do to spice up our marriage?” The first step they take is deciding that on their next date night, they’ll head into New York City and go to dinner at a trendy new restaurant.
While at this restaurant, Claw, they steal the dinner reservations of another couple, the Tripplehorns. They’re having are great time, living out of their comfort zone, when two thugs arrive at their table and, thinking that Phil and Claire are the real Tripplehorns, demand to see them outside. No sooner can you mutter North by Northwest meets The Out- of-Towners and Phil and Claire are running for their lives, trying to track down a mysterious flash drive that these two armed strongmen are after. Their adventure finds them seeking the help of one of Claire’s former clients, a security consultant (a very funny Mark Wahlberg), trying to avoid the menace of a local mobster (Ray Liotta) and running into the real Tripplehorns (James Franco and Mila Kunis at their skuzzy best).
I’ll be honest, all I wanted to do was have a good time when I watched Date Night, and I laughed my ass off. The ease with which Carell and Fey can switch from subtle to slapstick humor is a rare gift and they use all of their skills to make Date Night hilarious. Moreover, the picture is really well made, from start to finish. Director Levy has a knack for pacing his movies so that the laughs settle down throughout the film for moments of character development and some emotional resonance. He’s able to do all of this not only because he has stellar leads, but because he fills out even the smallest of roles with top notch talent (Mark Ruffalo, Kristen Wiig, Taraji P. Henson and J.B. Smooth, to name a few). Maybe Date Night isn’t wholly original, but if you allow yourself to go along for the ride, I think you’ll find this to be an enjoyable, laugh filled 90 minutes.
The DVD release of Date Night includes both the theatrical version of the film and an extended version of the film with additional footage. Usually when you watch an extended version of anything you can feel the dead weight of the added scenes. However, Levy directs at such a quick pace, there were only one or two instances where I understood why this gag or that scene were cut. Bonus features of the DVD include the obligatory gag reel. But with a cast this great, the gags are actually funny. Levy provides some good audio commentary (on the theatrical version only) and he also has a couple featurettes in which he discusses the craft of directing.