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Movie Review: ‘Date Night’
Here is my theory: Sometimes, a movie is only as good as its best line. And any movie that can pull off a completely random line like “They stabbed a chicken nugget with a Sharpie. These are not good people,” is worth watching.
In some ways, “Date Night” is exactly what you’d expect of a partnership between Steve Carell and Tina Fey; they do exactly what they do on “The Office” and “30 Rock,” respectively. They play around with lines until they come up with something funny.
The chicken nugget line is completely unrelated to what’s going on in the scene, and it’s quite possibly a product placement for Sharpies, but its very randomness is what makes it funny. “Date Night,” as a whole, always keeps you slightly off balance.
The premise itself is completely ridiculous. Basically, Phil (Carell) and Claire Foster (Fey) are your average married couple with two young kids: tired, cranky and struggling to recapture the spark in their relationship. In an effort to spice things up, they go to a nice restaurant downtown and, when they can’t get a reservation, end up taking a reservation made by a no-show couple, the Triplehorns. Unfortunately, it turns out that Triplehorn is an alias for a couple deeply involved in blackmail, corruption and the mob. Phil and Claire, mistaken for the Triplehorns, go dashing off on a mad adventure across the city.
So yes, you’re fully expected to check your disbelief at the door. The characters, on the other hand, are completely realistic. I might not have believed the situation, but I almost always believed the ways that Phil and Claire reacted to what was going on and to each other. Carell and Fey are able to be funny without becoming complete caricatures of a boring, suburban married couple. For all the tension about being stuck in a rut, there is a sweetness between them, seen in the way Phil offers Claire his coat and in how much effort Claire puts into looking nice for the evening. They are a good team, and you’ll really care about what happens to them.
In fact, I cared about them so much that it started to cause problems; at one point they “borrow” an Audi and partake in a high-speed car chase through the streets of New York. Predictably, the car is abused in almost every way imaginable, and I found that I wasn’t able to sit back and enjoy the hijinks because I was worried that Phil would have to drain his kids’ college fund to pay for the damages.
In some ways, it feels like “Date Night” can’t quite settle into a genre. It is sweet, funny, exciting, ridiculous and even slightly sad. But above all, it is unpredictable, a rare quality in Hollywood. Yes, you know that everything will ultimately turn out all right for the Fosters, but it’s hard to see how or what their next step will be. And I can guarantee that it’s a lot of fun to go along for the ride.
Directed by: Shawn Levy
Starring: Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg