A ‘Date’ With Tina and Steve
A dream you may have not known you had just came true. Whether or not you find the American edition of “The Office” or “30 Rock” to be funny, the comedic pairing of Steve Carell and Tina Fey makes too much sense to be denied any longer. As two routine parents that get thrown into a world of hurt as punishment for slight impulsiveness, “Date Night” is a giddy, fast comedy that lands nearly every joke and sets a high benchmark for all other comedies this year.
Phil and Claire Foster are a couple of average, overworked middle-class who decide to be doppelgangers for a no-show couple at a restaurant during their weekly night out. Who they impersonate turn out to be on the wrong side of a mob boss (a completely in-his-element Ray Liotta). This mix-up throws this white-bread couple into a world of car chases and guns pointed at foreheads, sending them across town to a buff security expert client of Claire (an ever-shirtless Mark Wahlberg) and the actual no-show couple (another genius pairing of James Franco and Mila Kunis). While many scenes may remind some of moments in “Pineapple Express,” the intrusion of the action never supersedes the comedy, and in fact acts as a funnel toward most of the joke fodder.
The mixture of Murphy’s Law action and romantic comedy works brilliantly, most obviously due to the wistful chemistry between Carell and Fey. The two fall so well into place together that their history feels more tangible than any other on-screen couple that could roll off the tongue. The supporting cast also manages a refreshing lack of stupidity, which, considering that many are nondescript gangsters in a non-Martin Scorsese movie, is an impressive feat. The quicksilver insanity that flies constantly about the Fosters builds and plays out with an understandable arc and attention to what came before. Most of the dialogue mumbles along with the stuttering overlap you expect from the duo’s oeuvre and the conversational flow does justice to a near pitch-perfect script by Josh Klausner.
The direction of the film acts as the greatest proof possible that practice makes perfect. Shawn Levy, the man responsible for the tedious “Night at the Museum” films and the horrid “Cheaper by the Dozen,” finally found his footing with “Date Night,” able to keep pace with the demanding camera movement of the action sequences while still maintaining focus on the comedy they inspire. The cinematography manages an impressive turn following alongside Levy’s direction while the soundtrack is able to underscore most of the scene’s emotional notes but fails to procure anything too memorable in the process. Costume, lighting and makeup design are also — if more understandably — underscored.
Steve Carell and Tina Fey are almost too perfectly average. They play off each other and riff like the comedy veterans we know them to be, and it’s because of this core believability that the intrusion of the Zucker Brothers-style zaniness not only makes sense, but stays funny. An impressively non-cliché supporting cast and competent production round out the package into an impressive update to the classic comedic couples routine. Art direction and set design seem to be too keen towards exhibitionism, but it fails to even register as a blip against the whole experience. It’s the funniest movie since “The Hangover,” and it’s a Night you can’t afford not to take out.