For a couple actually going out on a "date night," Date Night will work pretty well. It's got two popular sitcom stars with good chemistry, occasional bursts of action to keep husbands interested and accurate observations about marriage. Those might not be particularly original, but at least they're somewhat funny.
Date Night isn't a movie designed to go on anyone's top ten list. Instead, it's a pleasant enough couple of hours away from the kids without feeling like a waste of time or babysitting money.
Yes, this isn't an effusive recommendation. Director Shawn Levy has competence, but despite a career built on comedies, he depends upon his actors to make him look good. The gags that work best are verbal; for physical bits, Levy's work always looks like he just plants the camera and hopes for the best.
Of course, he has two of the best in Steve Carell and Tina Fey. Both of them are veterans of Second City, and have a give and take that works both in the funny moments and those meant to be poignant. Playing the Fosters, a married couple that fears becoming "really good roommates," they steep in marital exhaustion.
After Claire (Fey) decides to dress up for date night, Phil (Carell) takes the challenge and leads her into Manhattan. Breaking out of their comfort zone at the local suburban steak house, the Fosters want a night of glamour to put the illusion of zing back into their marriage. Haute cuisine turns into trouble when they answer to the wrong couple's reservation, leading them to be the hapless center of a chase involving blackmail, police corruption and a crime boss' strip club.
It could be the set-up of an Alfred Hitchcock movie, and like his films, ultimately the why of why the Fosters end up on the run doesn't matter. Instead, their predicament provides an excuse for set pieces that allow Carell and Fey to become slowly undone and catch glimpses of a world they don't really want to belong in (though a visit is nice). Along the way their adrenaline forces them into brief but on-the-nose relationship talks.
Levy provides some decent supporting actors, borrowing from Judd Apatow's camp to get James Franco and Mila Kunis as Taste and Whippit, a bizarro version of the Fosters. Doing little more than lightly perspiring and looking incredibly buff, Mark Wahlberg still scores. For the fanboys, keep your eyes open for Olivia Munn.
Everything tumbles along to a loud, predictable but satisfying ending. Lessons are learned, inner strength is discovered, and if there are no surprises, that's comfortable to a large segment of the movie-going population. Date Night is never too loud or gross, but it's also not a disappointment to people who follow its stars from television.
Like a marriage that has gone on pleasantly enough, Date Night is comfortable. Your excitement level, however, may vary.