Thursday, April 8, 2010

Review: "Date Night"

Tina Fey and Steve Carell are gifted comedians and likable performers. They're the centerpieces on their smartly-written back-to-back TV shows, "30 Rock" and "The Office."

They're so good, in fact, that watching them slum their way through inferior material like this is depressing.

"Date Night" is a lower-middle-brow comedy about an upper-middle-class New Jersey couple who get their marriage spark reignited by a crazy night in Manhattan where they're mistaken for blackmailers and chased by cops and bad guys alike. I don't know about you, but I'm actually getting sleepy just describing it.

Fey and Carell make for a good team, and they invest themselves in every joke, managing to save a few scenes that end up being pretty funny.

Yeah, they're more or less playing variations on their television characters -- Liz Lemon's self-deprecating neurotic charm and Michael Scott's diffident discomfort in his own skin -- but we enjoy those people so much, it's not a big deal that they're repurposing.

When the pair are just inhabiting a scene, riffing and ad-libbing, the effects are pleasurable. But then the movie has to fall back on its idiot plot -- car chases, scary guys with guns, etc.

They do make for a believable couple. Phil Foster is a tax accountant, and Claire is a real estate agent. Harried and worn out, they barely keep the romance on life support with the occasional date night.

There's a great little moment where Claire is fixing herself up for a night out, and Phil barely glances at her when he walks in the door, and we can see she's crushed. But he redeems himself by taking her to Claw, the hottest new Tribeca restaurant. They have $50 soup, a month-long backlog for reservations and snootily answer the phone, "Claw, you're welcome."

When another couple misses their reservation, the Fosters pretend to be them. Unfortunately, a pair of toughs show up and, thinking they're the other couple, to demand a Flash drive with some juicy material on it.

It's all one big lame case of mistaken identity, and the rest of the movie is spent with the Fosters on the lam, trying to track down this mysterious drive while skirting the hoods and the police.

Directed by Shawn Levy ("Night at the Museum") from a script by Josh Klausner, "Date Night" features a lot of cameos by well-known actors who run into the Fosters. Some are pleasing -- I liked James Franco as a skeevy character who dubs himself "Taste" -- while others just lie there.

Their stale adventures take the Fosters through Central Park, breaking into a friend's office, and showing up on the doorstep of an old client of Claire's (Mark Wahlberg) who has a background in security and is apparently incapable of wearing a shirt.

Throwaway jokes are usually the best ones. There's one bit where they have to infiltrate a mobbed-up strip club, and Claire sneaks into the strippers' locker room and emerges in a tart little outfit. "It's the only one long enough to cover my Caesarean scar," she explains.

Chuckle-worthy little moments like this almost -- almost -- save "Date Night" from itself.

2 stars out of four

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