Stranded-in-big-bad-New-York-City movies are nothing new. Jack Lemon and Sandy Dennis endured everything from exploding manhole covers to muggings in 1970’s “The Out of Towners” and in “After Hours” Griffin Dunne got sucked into the vortex known as Soho for one very long, weird night. Nope, the idea of average people getting in over their heads in the Big Apple has been done before, and done better than it is in “Date Night,” but this movie isn’t about the plot, it’s about the likeability of its two stars Tina Fey and Steve Carell.
Fey and Carell are Claire and Phil, a bored married couple from Teaneck, New Jersey looking to spice up their dull date nights with a fancy outing in Manhattan. It starts off promisingly. They can’t get a table at the hottest place in town, but when another couple doesn’t show up for their reservation Phil assumes their name, The Tripplehorns, and grabs the table. Dinner is great—wine is flowing, the truffle topped risotto is delicious, Will.i.am is at the next table—until two thugs (Jimmi Simpson, Common) come calling for the real Tripplehorns. Seems the other couple are blackmailers in possession of a flash drive that local mafia bigwig (Ray Liotta) desperately wants back. The case of mistaken identity sets them on a collision course with a notably shirtless security expert (Mark Wahlberg), crooked cops and wild car chases.
“Date Night” wouldn’t be as enjoyable as it is—and it really is fun—without the two leads. Fey and Carell breathe life into a hackneyed situation, bringing not only the previously mentioned likeability, but also great chemistry and a way with a line—and an adlib—that really works. Without them “Date Night” would be a silly exercise in action – comedy, like the lackluster “The Bounty Hunter” from a few weeks ago. With them it is a romp, which while predictable, has real, deep genuine laughs.
They are aided by a good supporting cast, most of which aren’t going for laughs. Liotta brings his usual tough guy swagger, “Benjamin Button” Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson is solid, if not a little dull as a detective who takes just a bit too long to realize that something sinister is afoot and Jimmi Simpson and Common are suitably sleazy as dirty cops, but it is the comedy supporting roles that shine.
Wahlberg mixes humor and sculpted abs in a memorable turn as a helpful—and terminally topless—security expert and the pairing of James Franco and Mila Kunis throws off some comedy sparks in their brief scene as the elusive Tripplehorns.
“Date Night” isn’t the most original comedy we’ve seen this year, but it is the best cast one.