Steve Carell, Tina Fey, James Franco, Mila Kunis, Mark Wahlberg, Kristen Wiig
20th Century Fox
Audio Commentary by Director Shawn Levy
Directing Off-Camera Featurette
Directing 301 Featurette
Public Service Announcements
There's something painfully ordinary about Date Night, director Shawn Levy's latest flick about the painfully ordinary Phil (Steve Carell) and Claire (Tina Fey) and their not quite madcap adventures on a date night gone awry that turns their methodical marital ritual into an evening of maniacal mayhem when they are mistaken for a not so innocent couple (hilariously played by James Franco and Mila Kunis).
Levy's directorial career has always been long on box-office receipts and short on critical acclaim, and Date Night isn't likely to change that for the filmmaker. The truth is that Levy would have a hard time completely ruining Date Night, a film that works as well as it does almost exclusively on the strength of its co-leads and a supporting cast that manages provide occasionally hilarious moments despite a rather bland script from screenwriter Josh Klausner (Shrek the Third).
Date Night isn't a brilliant film and it should be, a perfect idea for the perfectly peaceful pairing of Fey and Carell, two understated comic actors whose patience and intelligence are ideally suited to the storyline of a misguided couple who inadvertently find themselves in the midst of a life-threatening situation through the most seemingly innocent of choices. Despite Levy's unimaginative direction, Fey and Carell are a goldmine of subtle, often hilarious quirks and unpredictability in characters who are remarkably predictable. The brilliance of Phil and Claire is that they never dissolve into the madcap lunacy that surrounds them, instead maintaining their nearly stoic presence even as everything around them becomes completely absurd.
It is the ability of both Carell and Fey to pull off this complete absence of lunacy that makes Date Night as funny and entertaining as it is, a film that more brings to mind Levy's rather endearing Cheaper by the Dozen than it does the widely viewed and widely panned Night at the Museum films. While it goes without saying that Date Night will not be universally acclaimed, in fact many of you will find it dreadfully bland, those who appreciated the quiet, family friendly and slightly heart-centered touches in the Steve Martin-led Cheaper by the Dozen will likely find yourselves feeling for and identifying with the sense of stuckness that permeates every inch of Phil and Claire's married life and how this potentially terminal adventure actually does more for their marriage than could any marriage therapist.
One gets the sense, and it's certainly debatable, that Levy is the culprit here in keeping Date Night from achieving the comedy greatness that it flirts with on occasion. While Date Night certainly lacks the vulgarity and extremity of last year's The Hangover, several scenes in the film could lead one to believe that it's the film's satirical potential that attracted both Fey and Carell to the film and, yet, it's difficult to deny that just when it feels like Date Night is about to turn a corner the film hits the brakes and what could have been an emotionally resonant, deeply felt comic situation turns into a cheap, shallow laugh that is instantly forgettable.
So close. Yet, so far.
Franco, who seems to be finding his niche' in off-kilter comedies, is nicely paired with Kunis in a relationship that fairly well mirrors that of the older, but not necessarily wiser, Phil and Claire. Mark Wahlberg is surprisingly spot-on in turning a nothing role into delightful comic nothingness, while William Fichtner is a hilariously hyped up and unforgettable politician. Kristen Wiig serves up yet another memorable turn, while Taraji P. Henson and Mark Ruffalo are solid in brief appearances.
Neither as brilliant as fans of Fey and Carell would hope for nor as disappointing as many critics will proclaim, Date Night is simply a good, reasonably entertaining comedy made all the better thanks to its stellar cast. Production credits are fine here, but for once it's rather refreshing to see a simple, rather straightforward comedy that focuses more on the characters than the CGI and more on the performances than the distractions.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic