Friday, April 23, 2010

Fey and Carell are an enjoyable 'date'

Between “The Office” and “30 Rock,” Steve Carell and Tina Fey have perhaps the funniest and smartest hour of comedy on TV. When you can get these two in the comfort of your own home, is it worth going to a movie theater to see their new film “Date Night?” While you could probably wait for DVD, this is a worthy night out. Unless there is an “Office” and “30 Rock” crossover episode, this may be only time to see these comedy titans together.

"Date Night” is an action comedy about the Fosters, a married couple whose life is stagnating in suburbia. In an attempt to add some excitement into their lives they go on a date in New York City, but get more than they bargained for when they steal a reservation at a expensive restaurant. Before you can say “Check please” they are being chased by crooked cops (Jimmi Simpson and Common), a mobster (Ray Liotta) and a corrupt district attorney (William Fichtner).

This is familiar territory. The plot, which revolves around the Fosters trying to find a stolen flash drive, is negligible. All the parts fit together and make sense, but ultimately the why behind everything that is happening doesn't really matter. It is merely an excuse to have Carell and Fey banter and wisecrack through car chases and gun fights.

Car chases, especially in action comedies, have become routine and rarely thrill simply because it has all been done before. Deja vu is deadly for a film. So, “Date Night” deserves immense credit for coming up with a gimmick for its big chase center piece that is unique and funny. You haven't quite seen anything like it.

The stars, though, are what make this film work. Their comic timing and line delivery is impeccable. A gag reel at the end of the film shows that much of their dialogue was improvised. They are so good at this sort of fast-paced repartee that even when they are riffing it feels natural and unforced.

Carell and Fey are given several people to play off of. Mark Walhberg is very funny as a perpetually shirtless high-tech security agent that takes pity on the Fosters. Likewise, James Franco and Mila Kunis get big laughs as the trashy second-rate criminals whose reservation the Fosters stole.

Kunis is a fine comic actress who has a tendency of popping up in action movies like “Book of Eli” that don't utilize her talents. Her one five-minute scene with Franco is a highlight of the film. The four actors bounce off each other with such ease. You want more screen time with them, but maybe director Shawn Levy has it right to not have too much of a good thing.

Surprisingly enough, the film does actually have some dramatic tension and tender moments. These moments aren't sustained for long, but they don't need to be in an action comedy like this. The opening scenes do a nice job of establishing how Carell and Fey's marriage has fallen into a grind, but at the same time we are given glimpses of their chemistry. This is key to giving their adventure some weight.

Naturally, by the end of the night they find that missing spark and learn to trust each other. Beyond being funny, Carell and Fey actually make the relationship credible and make the audience care.

It is safe to say that without its stars this film would be just an average genre film. Carell and Fey make a great team, and, thanks to the supporting work of Wahlberg, Franco and Kunis, make “Date Night” a quite enjoyable date movie.

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