Call me a major snob, but when I saw that Date Night stars Tina Fey and Steve Carell had been on Oprah this week, I immediately lowered my already low expectations for the Shawn Levy-directed flick (Pink Panther, both Night at the Museums).
But Date Night isn’t the lukewarm, cookie-cutter rom-com I expected. A hybrid between a romantic comedy and a buddy-cop movie, it’s surprisingly enjoyable and funny.
A bit predictable, sure — and many have complained that the big car-chase scene is a little too 1980s — but Date Night has moments of real hilarity and even a little bit of emotional honesty. And the car chase? I’d say it’s retro in a good way.
Date Night follows somewhat bored and boring married couple Claire and Phil Foster through a date-night-turned-disaster after they’re mistaken for a pair of petty criminals in over their heads.
The film is best when the Levy lets the actors drive the scene. Fey and Carell have a natural comedic chemistry — maybe it’s their similarly awkward delivery styles — that lights up the screen when they’re playing it up for laughs. Watching some of the outtakes during the credits, you get the impression that Date Night could have been even funnier if Fey and Carell had created all of their own dialogue.
Likewise, many of the movie’s laugh-out-loud moments occur when other actors, doing what they do best, play off of Fey and Carell’s awkward Fosters.
In one memorable scene, James Franco and Mila Kunis portray “Taste” and “Whippit” — the couple the Foster have been mistaken for. Franco plays that sort-of dumb, angry douchebag he does so often on funnyordie.com, and Kunis plays along, serving as a hilarious foil for the Fosters.
Taste upbraids Whippit for not wanting to have sex with him after working a night at the strip club, while she criticizes his thievery, then Taste bemoans her lack of trust.
It’s just a few moments after Claire and Phil have an argument that follows the same trajectory — except that their fight is about chores.
Date Night is far from perfect, but it’s still a great date movie. Fey and Carell’s comedic teamwork keeps the movie rolling, and Claire and Phil’s teamwork — through all of their trials — makes the Fosters worth caring about. Screenwriter Josh Klausner described Date Night as a “love letter to marriage” in the New York Times — and, in that respect, it succeeds.