Saturday, April 10, 2010

DATE NIGHT: It's a Date!

Date Night is what we tell ourselves Hollywood used to create more consistently. It’s a high concept blockbuster with big stars and a big budget. It’s an action-comedy that’s genuinely exciting and more than a little funny. It moves at a fast pace with a light touch. It’s a perfectly enjoyable night at the movies, even though, as it was winding down, I found myself mildly disappointed that it wasn’t just a little bit better.

After all, the movie stars two of the funniest people working today. Steve Carell and Tina Fey play a married couple whose weekly date night takes a screwball turn when a case of mistaken identity turns their night into a wacky and dangerous race through New York City in order to stay alive and clear up the misunderstandings. Their madcap adventure contains plenty of capably staged action and plenty of laughs. They come into contact with a host of funny characters who are played by a host of funny, talented performers. There’s a hunky security expert (Mark Wahlberg), a mob boss (Ray Liotta), a policewoman (Taraji P. Henson), two shady tough-guys (Common and Jimmi Simpson), and a couple of goofy lowlifes (James Franco and Mila Kunis) who are the real couple that should be at the center of the mess. Needless to say, Carell and Fey are far removed from their suburban-family existence and their circle of friends (which include the always welcome Kristen Wiig and Mark Ruffalo).

Carell and Fey have enjoyable presences on funny sitcoms (The Office and 30 Rock, respectively) and here create an easy rapport. They seem like a real married couple. They have complications and frustrations, sure, but they seem to truly love each other. And when the action movie kicks in, they don’t discover hidden depths in each other, or suddenly become butt-kicking action superstars. Their relationship is a little touching and sweet as their characters remain consistent throughout: likable and relatable. With lesser leads, the movie would be nowhere near as good, even with the excellent supporting cast that has been assembled.

Certainly, the story would not be as memorable if it weren’t for the people acting it out. The plot keeps a lot of thriller and screwball elements in the air, and there’s a feeling that it doesn’t ever develop the ideas more than the plot requires. But what a plot! I’m sure there are plot holes. It’s not complicated, or even particularly distinguished, but it’s certainly enjoyable and involving as it sends the characters racing through ridiculous scenarios and it managed to keep me smiling and chuckling for almost the entire run time. Sure, it retroactively bothers me that the underlying theme about marriage is never fully explored and that the great supporting cast is seriously underused. But the movie was fun enough at the time.

The director is Shawn Levy who ruinously remade The Pink Panther and wasted a perfectly good premise in not one but two Night at the Museum movies. Here, he finally makes a movie that works all the way through. It’s a film that’s energetic without seeming manic while funny without seeming to stretch for laughs. The timing is excellent, the leads are well-deployed, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. In fact, it all seems to resolve too easily and quickly. If anything, I wanted the movie to go on a little longer. There needs to be just one more turn of the screw, one more unexpected complication. The plot resolves a bit too quickly and easily. Then again, I should be careful what I wish for. This is just an easy, uncomplicated, and enjoyable experience. It's a fun, slick entertainment that’s, at the risk of sounding too willing to be quoted, just right for date night.

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