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Was this trip necessary? (l-r) Fey and Carell in Date Night.

Let’s Go Out and Have Some Fun

By Laura Leon

Date Night

Directed by Shawn Levy

 

If Michael Scott and Liz Lemon were to get together, it likely would be very funny. As anybody who watches either The Office or 30 Rock knows, both characters are geeky losers, at least in terms of what we perceive to be cool factors. Michael, the head honcho for a paper company in Scranton, Pa., is prone to making verbal gaffes about his employees that veer between the extremely insensitive to downright actionable. Liz, while having garnered a level of success as the head writer for a popular comedy show, regularly puts her foot in etiquette doo-doo thanks to her inept social skills. And they both make you laugh. So a fan is well within her rights to expect great things from a movie like Date Night, which pairs their portrayers, Steve Carell and Tina Fey.

And, as it turns out, a cynic is well within her rights to expect, and then find, that such pairings often look better on paper than they actually come off on screen. Such is the case with Date Night, which is about a couple’s attempt to put the zing back in their stale marriage. Phil (Carell) and Claire (Fey) Foster seem genuinely fond of each other, but their successful careers, their two kids, and their extraneous commitments leave them opting out of having the babysitter over in favor of take-out pizza and an early, sexless night. When their best friends Brad (Mark Ruffalo) and Haley (Kristen Wiig) reveal that they’re splitting up, a minor tremor occurs in their own relationship. Have they become each other’s Excellent Roommate? Determined to change things up, Phil takes Claire to Manhattan (they live in New Jersey) to dine at the hot new eatery named Claw. As anybody who’s seen the trailer knows, they end up copping the reservation of a no-show couple, with disastrous results (thugs with guns, car chases).

Much of Date Night is very funny, and these moments are usually quieter ones in which Phil and Claire exchange unintentionally rueful observations while the camera allows us to see the islands that they’ve unintentionally become. While other movies use the ploy of having unexpected disaster translate into marriage therapy (Did You Hear about the Morgans?), Date Night gives us a husband who, from the start, means well to the point of joining Claire and her obnoxious girlfriends for their post-post-feminist book club. (He actually reads the selections!). This apparently serves the purpose of making Claire look like an ungrateful bitch when, responding to her vent about having only so much energy to get everything done that all working mothers have to get done, he says, “Maybe if you let me help you . . . ” I doubt the audience heard my “grrr,” so enraptured were they with what a stand-up guy Steve Carell (not Phil, mind you) is. This exchange occurs in one of the movie’s dimmer moments, when, having begun a ridiculous car chase, the Fosters take a moment to bare their souls, to the accompaniment of a sappy soundtrack.

A running gag involving a shirtless and very buff Mark Wahlberg as Claire’s former real-estate client, and another about that stolen dinner reservation, are consistently funny. The appearance of James Franco and Mila Kunis (as the two whacked-out lovers who owned said reservation) is wacky and trippy and almost takes the movie off the narrative track, with Fey and Carell simply standing by. It’s too bad that the Fosters as characters couldn’t similarly have been allowed a chance to run amok in Manhattan, maybe experience a little After Hours shock, without having to resort to loud crashes and lurking bad men all to remind them that, yes, the thrill is still there. As adult comedies go, Date Night is a notch above things like Knocked Up and its ilk, which threatens to be about all we of a certain age get to watch if we’re not into 3D or Vin Diesel. But it could have been so much better.


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