It is surprising that "Date Night" is the first time that Steve Carell and Tina Fey have teamed up. They just seem like one of those natural pairings that should have done five movies together by now. Despite the long wait, a solid script and great performances from Carell and Fey and a very game supporting cast make "Date Night" an auspicious beginning to what I hope is a long partnership.
Carell and Fey play Phil and Claire Foster, a married couple that has fallen into a bit of a rut. Their two young children take up most of their time and energy. They have their routine. There’s book club and date night, always at the same restaurant — the waiter even knows them by name. Phil and Claire are shaken when they learn their best friends are separating. Both wonder if they have let things get too stale.
Starring: Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg, James Franco, Mila Kunis
Runtime: 88 min.
Trying to shake things up, the two decide to switch it up and head into Manhattan for dinner at a swanky new seafood restaurant. When they are unable to get a table ("people make reservations months in advance" according to the snooty host), Phil impetuously makes the decision to steal another couple’s reservation. Phil’s seemingly innocent bit of reservation theft leads to a night full of mistaken identity and bizarre encounters. The Fosters are forced to tangle with dirty cops, mob bosses, burnouts (Mila Kunis, James Franco) and an always-shirtless security expert (Mark Wahlberg).
What makes the craziness work so well is that Phil and Claire are a grounded and realistic couple. Yes they have their problems, but they are realistic, not just manufactured plot points. Carell and Fey have a nice chemistry, and are just plain likable. That may sound simple, but they are simply delightful together. The movie has us rooting for Phil and Claire before they are even in danger.
The all-star supporting cast is used exceptionally well and are given actual characters to play. Wahlberg has a blast poking fun at himself as a former client of Claire’s who seems uninterested in wearing a shirt, much to Phil’s chagrin. And Kunis and Franco are hilarious as the couple whose reservation Phil and Claire stole. Their scene is the funniest in the movie.
Director Shawn Levy capably balances the comedy and action with the character work. And stages one of the more inventive and impressive car chases in recent years involving two cars stuck together. Perhaps most importantly, Levy seems very comfortable directing large, diverse casts and gives everyone their moment to shine while keep things moving at a brisk pace.
While "Date Night" is nothing particularly original, it shows how fresh old standards can be when done well.