Date Night is a throwback to the classic buddy comedies of the 80s, but with a twist – these buddies are married. Starring Steve Carell and 30 Rock‘s Tina Fey, this is the sort of family entertainment you put on after the kids have gone to bed.
Designed to strike a chord with all those happily married couples who have seen the excitement disappear from their relationship, Date Night may not win any awards for originality, but it is sure to provide a satisfying night at movies, probably for more than few people on dates.
Carell and Fey play Phil and Claire Foster, a 2.4 children couple from New Jersey suburbia, slogging through a life juggling the kids and their careers and leaving little time for each other. Every week they have a ‘date night’, their one indulgence which is becoming more of a chore than a treat, and after hearing their best friends are splitting up, they decided to spice it up a bit and head into the city for dinner at a fancy restaurant.
Unfortunately, Phil didn’t book ahead, so when they get to the restaurant the fish-out-of-water Fosters are quickly ushered over to the bar by the tragically hip reception staff with a ‘talk to you never’ approach.
Angered by the aloof attitude of the restaurant, Phil decides to get his own back by ‘stealing’ another couple, the Tripplehorns’, reservation. It soon turns out that the real Tripplehorns are not the sort of people you really want to pretend to be, and Phil and Claire get caught up in a case of mistaken identity, having to work together not only to save their family but their lives.
You can add the rest in for yourself, because Date Night sticks to its by-the-numbers plot pretty slavishly. However, what really matters here is the chemistry between Carell and Fey, which is brilliant. They really could be a married couple. And their casual rapport – the gentle back-and-forth of put downs and in jokes – seems totally natural.
Carell excels in this sort of everyman role and Fey, riding high on the success of 30 Rock and her Sarah Palin impersonation, shows a similar gift for being likeable. There are some genuine moments of comedy gold – a brilliant sight gag as the couple try and escape on a novelty boat at three miles per hour, a taxi ride from hell and Carell’s robotic pole dancing (trust me) – but for the most part, Date Night just ticks over with a steady flow of chuckles. And in many ways, you want the film to be funnier than it is thanks to the leads’ personalities.
Much of the dialogue has a improvised feel, and director Shawn Levy, a family comedy veteran who helmed Night At The Museum and Cheaper By The Dozen, obviously gave Carell and Fey a lot of freedom (as seen in the old school out-take reel over the end credits, yes!). But he still seems to have played it very safe in the final edit. If a bit more of his leads’ anarchy was onscreen, Date Night could have been a gem.
As it is, a rather dry supporting cast (Mark Wahlberg turns up at one point to prove he has no comic timing) and an unwillingness to take risks leaves this as a solid three star night out. Carell and Fey carry the film, and their affability will smooth over the cracks, but ultimately this is throwaway fare.
The sex robot dance is worth the admission price alone, though.
Date Night is in UK cinemas now.