Shawn Levy specializes in the completely forgettable comedy as a director, it seems. The man behind the Night at the Museum franchise has a track record of making commercially successful films that are pleasing but don’t make any sort of impact upon the cinematic consciousness. Case in point: Date Night.
Phil (Steve Carell) and Claire Foster (Tina Fey) are the typical suburban couple in New Jersey; he’s a tax lawyer by day, she’s a real estate agent, and they have two kids and a house with a white picket fence. Every week they have a date night at the same exact restaurant, ordering the exact same things and discussing nearly the same things. When a couple they’re friends with (Mark Ruffalo and Kristen Wiig in cameo roles) reveal their intentions to get divorced because of the same old routine, Phil and Claire decide to break out of the norm and go on a date night in New York City at a hot new restaurant without a reservation. When they take someone else’s, a case of mistaken identity leads to a wild night on the city as they flee from cops and mobsters alike; trying to stay alive, the two set out to get to the bottom of it.
And it’s a fairly entertaining film that relies on Fey and Carell’s impeccable comic timing to really make the film work. The two have a terrific chemistry with one another that carries subpar material further then it has any right to go. They have an interesting chemistry together, as they have similar comedic styles and play off each other wonderfully. Their interactions are plausible and credible; this is a couple that has been together for a long period of time and they way they interact gives them credibility as a couple that few couples in this genre truly have. Both came from comedy schools based on Improv and it’s easy to see that they’re ease at working together most likely comes from that shared background.
Levy has a great cast outside the pair to work with. Ray Liotta and William Fichtner have what amounts to extended cameos but provide a certain amount of menace that is needed for the film. Mark Wahlberg provides an interesting cameo that gets one of Carell’s best lines of the film due to Wahlberg prancing around shirtless. The problem is that the film substitutes action sequences for character building and plot development; it is entertaining but the film doesn’t give us any real reason to care about their relationship. They’re a photogenic and believable couple but the film revolves around them patching 99% of their differences by running from mobsters and putting pieces together; after a while it gets boring. And it’s a shame because Carell and Fey have such good chemistry and timing with one another.
It’s just too bad that they don’t have better material to work with. The film starts out decently enough, building into a unique character study about a couple trying to put some spice back into their relationship. And there are moments in the film of genuine clarity and drama, including a moment out of a much better film between Claire and Phil. Date Night ends up being a film that has some good moments but is ultimately forgettable in almost every way.
Director: Shawn Levy Notable Cast: Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg, Ray Liotta, William Fichtner, Mila Kunis, James Franco, Common, Mark Ruffalo, Kristen Wiig Writer(s): Josh Klausner