Depending on how you look at Date Night, your expectations will either be met or exceeded. The trailers did little to instill confidence in many, Josh Klausner’s screenplay pedigree (Shrek 3 and 4 co-writer) does little to excite, the comedic talent of Tina Fey and Steve Carell kept me hopeful and the reaction to director Shawn Levy is going to depend on your affinity for the Night at the Museum franchise. Based on those factors I expect Date Night will surprise many as expectations can’t be too high for what results in being a hit-and-miss comedy made of moments that go on too long as well as one-liners that land squarely. I enjoyed it as a one-time watch, but it’s way too up and down to ever give it too much praise.
Fey and Carell star as a middle-class American couple with two kids, steady jobs and little time to themselves. They have regular date nights that often involve the same restaurant, meal and conversation. It’s when one of their married friends announces they are getting a divorce that they begin to look closer at their own situation. In an attempt to rekindle the fire they decide a fancy night on the town is necessary to break up the monotony, but things go awry when they get caught up with some assumed thugs working for a Manhattan mob boss throwing the night way off track.
This is an ensemble comedy co-starring Common, Taraji P. Henson, Mark Wahlberg, James Franco, Mark Ruffalo, Kristen Wiig, Mila Kunis, Ray Liotta and William Fichtner. Of the bunch Franco and Kunis share a comedic five minutes that almost feels more like a rushed “Saturday Night Live” rehearsal run, but it remains funny. And while Wahlberg’s appearance is a rather one-note joke it does inspire some comedy, especially an over-the-top parody of technology in film.
Fey and Carell work well together and they only misfire when a scene goes on too long, such as a pole-dancing segment toward the end that should have been deleted or rewritten altogether. However, the two middle-aged women sitting behind me at my screening were howling with laughter as the rest of the theater remained silent at this scene so perhaps it’s a story of different strokes.
Date Night is a cobbled together feature of standalone scenes serving as an overall narrative. It’s nothing more than a satisfactory diversion, but kudos must be handed out to Levy for keeping the running time down to 87 minutes. Levy takes little time getting to a story filled with all the screwball antics you would expect and that’s rare these days. One liners most likely improvised by Fey and Carell on the spot keep the story fresh, as well the film benefits from the on screen charisma the two share.
Date Night is a slightly above average comedy fitting into the landscape exactly as it should, hardly disturbing the water on either side of right-down-the-middle.