'Date Night' saved by Fey, Carell

Posted: Thursday, April 15, 2010

T he Phoenix Suns do not play very good basketball when Steve Nash misses any significant amount of time. "Joey" did not work as a sitcom on NBC because nobody cared about Joey without the rest of his "Friends" there with him. If Conan O'Brien were to shave that beautiful pompadour off his head, he would likely become immediately less funny.

There are endless examples of things that work, but only when certain ingredients are present. Take away that ingredient, however, and what used to work perfectly suddenly seems like a hot mess. "Date Night," the new comedy from director Shawn Levy, mostly works just fine. It has genuinely funny moments sprinkled in throughout, and it is an enjoyable way to escape reality for an hour and a half. On the other hand, the movie's flaws are just barely concealed and there are only two reasons they don't threaten to ruin the whole film.

In no particular order, those reasons go by the names of Tina Fey and Steve Carell. They play the Fosters (Claire and Phil), a boring married couple from New Jersey - that's actually how they describe themselves. The truth is, well, that is the truth. Phil and Claire are a boring, married couple from New Jersey. She sells real estate, he does people's taxes, and together they raise their children and live a pretty straightforward life.

"Straightforward" meaning boring.

Where things change for the Fosters is on, you guessed it, their "Date Night." They both become concerned about their mundane existence when their seemingly happily married friends announce they're getting divorced. Instead of going to their usual date night spot (even their date nights are routine), Phil takes his wife into the city for dinner. They go to a fancy restaurant where they have no hopes of getting a table; Phil calls an audible - something he never does - and claims a reservation when the hostess cannot seem to find the "Tripplehorns."

The previews explain everything pretty clearly, and Josh Klausner's script - much like the Fosters - is predictable. The Fosters, though, don't get to enjoy their victorious escape from the mundane for very long before Common is standing by their table commanding them to get up, "now." It takes Phil and Claire a few moments to realize they are in serious trouble (they initially think they are being kicked out of the posh eatery for taking somebody else's reservation), but when Common and his pal (Jimmi Simpson) point a gun at them and turn it sideways, they comprehend something is wrong.

"Date Night" then becomes your run of the mill flick about a case of mistaken identity with the Fosters being forced to solve everything on their own, or else! Along the way they encounter characters that are mostly there out of convenience for Klausner's script, and to allow actors like James Franco, Mila Kunis, and Mark Wahlberg to turn in entertaining supportive roles. And in the end, everything works out just dandy and the Fosters return home exhausted and in love all over again.

At this point you are wondering how all of the above lead me to call "Date Night" "enjoyable," and again the answer is Fey and Carell. They are naturally funny people. Without any real effort, they could probably team up to make the reciting of various legal disclaimers funny. Playing a married couple thrown into a ridiculous life and death situation in New York is child's play for them. Their chemistry is better than most real couples can ever hope for.

Steve Carell. Tina Fey. Because of them, and only because of them, "Date Night" works.

• Check out Carson's movie blog at www.juneaublogger.com/movies.

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