May 24, 2017

Tina Fey, Steve Carell ensure “Date Night” is worth taking


Circumstances kept me from seeing “Date Night” before its release, so Sunday, my wife and I had our own little date night (well, afternoon) and checked it out. Really glad we did.

You go into a film like this expecting its stars, Tina Fey and Steve Carell, to be funny. Each has a proven track record anchoring NBC’s Thursday night line-up and entertaining audiences through impossibly smart sitcoms “30 Rock” and “The Office,” respectively. Their roots trace all the way back to Chicago’s Second City improvisation program. And they honed their skills with stops at “Saturday Night Live” and “The Daily Show.”

What I didn’t expect, but was happy to discover, was sharp, unfussy direction from “Date NIght” helmer Shawn Levy. HIs plot is pure mistaken-identity piffle. Boring New Jersey spouses Phil (Carell) and Claire Foster (Fey) are mistaken for blackmailers when they steal another couple’s reservation at a trendy Manhattan seafood joint. Dirty cops, clean cops and Ray Liotta try and rub the couple out. A semi-naked Mark Wahlberg appears every so often to lend a hand (and provide eye candy for the ladies in the theater, since Carell can not).

Nowhere in Levy’s “Night at the Museum” films or “The Pink Panther” did I spot the restraint and control he exerts over “Date Night.” The movie bounces along at a solid clip. One-liners hit their marks, and visual gags involving a not-so-speedy boat or an historic revolver earn big laughs. A long stunt sequence involving two cars locked at the grills isn’t just competent. It’s excellent. And Levy’s smartest choice appears to be getting out of Carell and Fey’s way so they can rescue strip-club dance scenes with hilarious improvisation or charm their way through the predictable conclusion, where teamwork proves essential.

“Date Night” was unapologetocally funny. Here’s hoping enough couples chose it as their date night fodder so the naturally entertaining Carell and Fey get to do it all over again. And soon.

Editor’s note — On Sunday afternoon, Box Office Mojo reports “Date Night” won the weekend with an estimated $27.1 million, topping “Clash of the Titans” with $26.8 million. Stay tuned for actual numbers on Monday.

About Sean O'Connell

Sean O'Connell is a nationally recognized film critic. His reviews have been published in print ('The Washington Post,' 'USA Today') and online (AMC, MSN's Citysearch) since 1996. He's a weekly contributor to several national radio programs. He is a longstanding member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Southeastern Film Critics View all articles by Sean O'Connell Association (SEFCA).

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