Sunday, April 25, 2010

"Date Night"

Hollywood is an unpredictable old booger. You never know quite what to expect from its products or its stars. Just when you think you’ve got someone figured out, whether good or bad, they’ll throw out a game changer that leaves you questioning your previous commitment or lack thereof. (Unless we’re talking about John Travolta. That guy always sucks.) Sandra Bullock, for example, has been an instant “out” for me since the late 90s but her role in “The Blind Side” was excellent and put her back into tolerable territory. It does, however, work the other way as well, such as with the stars of “Date Night.”

I love Steve Carell and I love Tina Fey even more. They are two of the funniest humans in the entertainment industry today and I am always excited for their involvement in any project. But both have disappointed me lately. Carell was the star of the incredibly mediocre “Get Smart” and Fey was most unfortunately involved with “The Invention of Lying” which was entirely unfunny. Both movies just served as reminders that you can’t trust the name. As such, my thoughts going into “Date Night” were divided. I was stoked about the concept of this film from the get go, especially considering the stars. But as more and more advertising made its way into my mindgrape, I started focusing on “Smart” and “Lying” and wondering if this was going to be one of those times where all the good parts are in the trailers. Thankfully this was not the case and star power prevailed.

“Date Night” drops us into the sadly average lives of Phil and Claire Foster who have found themselves in the classic relationship rut. Work, kids, book club, and once a week Date Night at the same restaurant for the same food form the base of their everyday lives. Sparked by another couple’s recent divorce, the Fosters decide to change it up and bring Date Night to Manhattan where, upon being denied a table at a posh restaurant, they take the reservation of a missing couple called the Triplehorns. Things are going well until two thugs, mistaking them for the Triplehorns, drag them outside at gun point and demand the merchandise that was stolen from a local mob boss. What ensues is one crazy night of shenanigans as the Fosters dodge cops and crooks alike with the aid of Holbrooke (Mark Wahlberg), a former client of Claire’s. Their adventures take them deep into the seedy underbelly of New York where they discover their vanilla boring lives are actually pretty darn good.

Carell and Fey make the perfect comedic couple. Their talents and attributes compliment each other brilliantly, bringing out the best in one another. Both of these actors are so natural in their roles that at times it feels like they are a real life couple who just happen to be really, really funny. There are a few surprisingly real, candid moments that would not come to fruition without these two in the lead. Carell especially brings honesty to the film that it would seriously lack otherwise. As the movie progresses, the two take turns being the dunce and the hero, and while that might fall flat with other pairings, here it furthers their connection. The Fosters are a great team. A bit dramatic and prone to inane plans, sure, but a great team nonetheless.

On screen support for the stars is strong for the most part, though Academy Award nominee Taraij P. Henson is horribly miscast as the police detective in charge of the Foster investigation. A quick confession: I'm a huge fan of Mark Wahlberg. I know I shouldn’t be and I certainly can’t defend some of his acting choices (“The Happening”, anyone?). But he seems to have a good time with each role and that makes it hard for me to dislike him. Holbrooke is a throw away character in many ways but Wahlberg makes the role bigger than it really is. Likewise, James Franco (as one half of the real Triplehorns) is rapidly becoming one of my favorite supporting actors. His five minutes on the screen are, for me, the funniest of the entire movie. Franco doesn’t seem to care about whether or not a part is too small for him, instead choosing his roles based solely on how much he’ll enjoy the filming (“30 Rock” and “General Hospital,” for example).

The behind the camera work is solid if unspectacular. Director Shawn Levy (“Night at the Museum”) seems to know where his bread is buttered, allowing Carell and Fey to do their thing without too much interference. He doesn’t let the film stretch itself too far and I mean that in a good way. There’s only so much that can be done with this story and it would be very easy to let it get off the rails. The script (written by John Klausner) is perhaps the weak link, though it isn’t bad, just a bit lacking. Some of the laughs are cheap and ultimately unnecessary given the comedic genius of the collective cast. The second act wanes a little and suffers from a bit of laziness but again, not in such a way that causes the audience to tune out. If nothing else it’s certainly a step up from Klausner’s last script, “Shrek the Third.”

“Date Night” is exactly what you can reasonably expect from a spring comedy. The laughs are abundant and the story is fun and entertaining. Without Carell and Fey, the movie probably comes off as fairly generic and mediocre but don’t you have to give some credit for securing the right cast? If you’re a fan of the two stars you won’t be disappointed. Overall it’s a very enjoyable experience and it goes a long way to making me forget the transgressions mentioned above.

Grade: B+

I already regret my Wahlberg statements,

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