Meet Claire (Tina Fey) and Phil Foster (Steve Carell), a real estate agent and accountant respectively who leave their New Jersey suburban home and two children with a babysitter (Leighton Meester) for a night on the town in New York City.
Steve Carell and Tina Fey provide solid comic anchors in this comedy that reaches beyond simple banter and quips as these two leads make fun of themselves as much as others – a common oversight in most recent comedies. The situations and actions in Date Night work well as filmmakers focus on the natural progression within the action as well as the married couple’s current conflicts and hopes.
The filmmakers work hard in a simple format with the audience in mind. Screenwriter Josh Klausner and director Shawn Levy find a great balance amid a new sub-genre of concept comedies. Like The Proposal and The Hangover, audiences know what to expect when they take a seat in the theater, so it’s up to the filmmakers to deliver an entertaining and relatively stress-free experience. The talented stars in these recent concept films make the extraordinary situations believable without being corny, whiny, or contrived. Matter-of-fact conversations about C-section scars produce natural comedic results while forging a strong bond with audiences.
The best part about these concept movies is the level of unpredictability. Audiences know the beginning and the end, but the middle journey provides the power of engagement. Levy establishes the family unit and interaction with the kids, but then wisely and quickly focuses on the couple taking this journey. In one night, apprehensive beginnings end with dauntless resolutions.
A solid support cast strengthens the extraordinary situations by either instigating the conflicts or empathizing with Claire and Phil as they seek their own resolutions. Mark Wahlberg plays a security expert named Holbrooke and Taraji P. Henson plays Detective Arroyo on the law-abiding side. Common and Jimmi Simpson play two shady characters who confront the Fosters and initiate a conflict that eventually snowballs into a dangerous situation. Tough guys William Fichtner and Ray Liotta play prominent neighborhood figures who also factor into the plot.
James Franco and Mila Kunis have a memorable sequence and provide key elements to the crime puzzle entangling the Fosters. Comedian J.B. Smoove impresses in a frantic, hilarious car chase as a taxi driver. Even musician Will.i.Am gets a functional cameo near the establishing restaurant sequence. Kristen Wiig and Mark Ruffalo play the Fosters’ friends, the Sullivans, but quickly fade away. Audiences might expect a Wiig reappearance, especially after her conversation with Claire, but it never happens. These two roles should have been recast with a pair of actors who could have made a memorable impression with the acting, not the star recognition.
As the Fosters’ evening takes an abnormal turn, they attempt to explain away their misfortunes with fate and ill-timed decisions while eventually realizing their own hang-ups and personal limits. The screenplay lets Claire and Phil break out of their comfort zones through dangerous and genuinely comic situations that do not debilitate the audience’s senses. This highly recommended 88-minute comedy is rated PG-13 for sexual and crude content, language, some violence, and a drug reference. Stay for the ending credit bloopers and ad-libs.