Date Night is almost the perfect date movie. Its romance is heartfelt but not heavy-handed, its action is absurd but not overpowering, and its two stars—Steve Carell and Tina Fey—are effortlessly funny and so good at what they do that they can make you forget they’re acting.
Carell and Fey play Phil and Claire Foster, garden-variety WASPs anxious to zap out of whatever suburban emotional coma their two kids and nine-to-five jobs have slipped them into. Phil, in particular, is so staid and house-broken that he actually belongs to an all-female Oprah’s book club.
Even the couple’s date nights have devolved into sexless, pleasant-but-predictable jaunts to the same steakhouse tavern. And to top it all off, their two best friends (Mark Ruffalo & Kristen Wiig, in glorified cameos) are getting divorced from each other and couldn’t be happier.
Implicitly agreeing that someting must be done to reignite the flame, they decide on driving into Manhattan to hopefully get a table at a famous, new ritzy restaurant. One impishly naughty decision by Phil to steal a reservation, however, throws them both down a rabbit-hole of big-city police corruption. Before they even have time for desert, they’re whisked away and chased by dirty cops who think they’re some other couple who’ve stolen an important flash drive from some mafia kingpin (Ray Liotta…trying to fill the hours?).
From there, the zany sequence-of-events gets wilder and wilder. Most of it involves the bumbling Fosters trying to stay one step ahead of their pursuers with humorous results, most memorably meeting the actual couple who had the reservation (James Franco & Mila Kunis, as white-trash counterparts of Phil and Claire), and pole-dancing for a sleazy district attorney with a taste for transgendered strippers.
Given their redoubtable backgrounds in sketch-comedy, Carell and Fey hardly need a director (or script, for that matter) to dominate the screen with their affable self-deprecation. Director and action-comedy vet Shawn Levy (maestro behind the Night at the Museum franchise) knows this all too well, and gives the two comedy all-stars ample leeway to deadpan their way into our good graces.
Date Night is brisk, fun, and surprisingly tender, almost as much of a sweet-natured, modern marriage profile as it is an action-comedy. The action and suspense is very comic-bookish—lots of danger, guns going off, and expensive cars going boom—but no blood touches the ground and nobody’s feelings get hurt. Implausible? Absolutely. Will anybody care? Nope.