Choosing a movie for this week’s edition of Film of the Week was very easy because “Date Night” was the only one that opened in the area during the past weekend.
The romantic comedy genre definitely is not my favorite because so many of them simply are a waste time. Instead of being really funny, a number of them feature major stars making complete fools of themselves, or they rely on outlandish grossness in the name of humor. And some of them combine the comedy with adventure in an attempt to entertain audiences.
“Date Night,” starring Steve Carell ant Tin Fey falls into this latter category, and while it doesn’t represent the best the genre has to offer (“Charade” does that.), fans of these two funny people will nonetheless find the film at least semi-satisfying.
Carell and Fey play Phil and Claire Foster, the working parents of two children. He’s a tax consultant, and she’s a real estate, and they have settled comfortably into the routine of marriage. Their lives are neither particularly exciting nor eventful, but they are relatively content with their existence in the suburbs of New Jersey, and every week they set aside one evening for a date that usually entails dinner at the same restaurant.
When Phil and Claire learn that their two closest friends are getting a divorce, they begin to re-examine their own lives for signs of boredom. In order to break the monotony of their date night, Phil decides to take Claire to dinner at a fancy new restaurant in New York City. But they don’t have reservations, and when they arrive, the place is packed. They manage to fight their way to the bar for a drink, and then when the hostess calls out the name Tripplehorn several times and receives no response, Phil impulsively shouts out that they are the Tripplehornns and steals the table.
Shortly after Phil and Claire have been seated at their pirated table, two guys appear and order the unsuspecting couple to accompany them outside where they ask them to turn over some stolen property. It turns out that the two fellows are cops attempting to recover some incriminating evidence that has been stolen from very dangerous people. Now Phil and Claire find themselves running for their lives in an attempt to prove their innocence and regain their real identities.
“Date Night” certainly isn’t original because a veritable plethora of films throughout the years have been predicated on the idea of mistaken identity. Unfortunately the film doesn’t contain any riotous humor either, but the misadventures of Phil and Claire add up to such a madcap romp that the film won’t lull you to sleep.
Despite the fact that both Carell and Fey are comic superstars on their respective TV shows of “The Office” and “30 Rock,” their performances aren’t particularly complementary of one another in this movie. If I were to give the comedic edge to either of then in the film, it definitely would go to Fey, whose facial expressions alone are enough to elicit a lot of humor. She also is very natural in her portrayal of Claire, whom she analyzed in the film’s production notes.
“Claire is a working mom of two kids, who, like almost everyone I know, is just a little worn out by the day-to-day life of raising your kids, getting them out the door, getting them to school, having a job, keeping a house clean. She’s a good person who is just kind of worn into the ground a little bit. I certainly identify with how just physically tiring it is to be a parent and have a job. Sometimes it feels like a real effort to just be present for your spouse.”
Carell holds up his end as Phil satisfactorily, but he just didn’t seem to get into his character as much as Fey got into hers. I also didn’t find him particularly funny throughout the film, but perhaps that’s because I never have been a big fan of his. The funniest I have ever seen Carell was when played arrogant anchorman Evan Baxter in the Jim Carrey classic “Bruce Almighty.” But then he pushed things too far by recreating the character in “Evan Almighty,” which was a real dud.
In addition to Carell and Fey, Mark Wahlberg displays his pectorals as a former acquaintance of Claire’s to whom the two turn for some help. And who better is there to play the heavyweight bad guy than Ray Liotta? This guy simply was born to play a gangster.
The best thing “Date Night” (Give it a final score of 5.5) has going for it is one of the most unusually original car chases I’ve ever seen. In addition to being very funny, this scene also features some incredibly entertaining stunt driving.
As I said earlier, however, the standard by which I gauge all romantic/adventure films is “Charade,” the 1963 classic starring Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, George Kennedy, James Coburn, and Walter Matthau. If you juxtapose these two films, “Date Night” isn’t in the same universe.
The filmmakers obviously made “Date Night” as a film for couples to see on a date night, but trust me when I tell you that it is not worth the full price of admission. Those who decide to see it should take in a matinee and make it a date afternoon so that they can save the night for something more worthwhile.