We all know those marriage cliches: after a while, the romance is gone, you’ve got jobs and kids and daily responsibilities to deal with, and at the end of the day you just want to relax, but of course leisure time always eludes you. I’d like to add another one: sometimes your wife gets you to see a movie you’re not really interested in, like Date Night. Hilarity ensues.
In this case, we get Phil (Steve Carell) and Claire (Tina Fey) Foster, who strangely resemble every other character previously played by Steve Carell and Tina Fey. He’s stressed and upset yet still aw-schucksy and charming, she’s sassy and world-weary and yet still funny and even kind of sexy. They’re a good match, and it makes sense to put them in a movie together. The two play off of each other well, their respective comedic sensibilities complimenting each other nicely.
As the title implies, they decide to get away from the kids for an evening and enjoy a night on the town. There’s a mix-up at the restaurant that results in the Fosters being mistaken for another couple, who maybe should’ve been named the Kaplans. Before they know it, they’re running for their lives, and hilarity is damn well ensuing.
If that plot summary sounds a bit scant, then I’ve adequately done my job of conveying to you the essence of Date Night. It’s not exactly what I’d call a dense script, but of course nobody’s coming to a movie like this looking for a complex storyline anyway. What they do come in search of are cheap laughs, and you’ll get that here. The scenario is absurd to the appropriate degree. The movie is highlighted by several cameos, most of which serve to give Fey and Carell another character to play off of, lest their dynamic become worn. This category includes J.B. Smoove, William Fichtner, and Ray Liotta (who for some reason is not credited, according to IMDB). An eclectic mix, to say the least. The highlight is Mark Wahlberg, whose perpetual shirtlessness gives Carell a never-ending target for uncomfortable, manhood-questioning jokes. The stars are nearly upstaged, though, by James Franco and Mila Kunis, who appear in but a single scene but manage to provide the comedic highlight of the film with their spot-on depiction of a white-trash couple.
The cameos don’t end there. We also get a scene featuring Mark Ruffalo and Kristen Wiig as the couple making different choices than those made by Fey and Carell’s Fosters, a rapper (Will.I.Am) playing himself, and another one (Common) actually acting to some degree. Either a lot of favors were called in for this one, or Date Night had one of the most generous casting budgets ever.
This was, I’d say, money (or favors) well spent. The frank truth about this movie is that there really isn’t enough there to fill a feature-length film, but the parade of unexpected and/or amusing cameos helps to keep things interesting and fresh. It’s still quite thin, though. The big joke pieces are way too drawn out. You’ll find yourself laughing, but then a few minutes later, with the gag still being beaten to death, you’ll just be wondering when they’ll move on. We get it. (There are two scenes in particular that are almost excruciating in this regard: one featuring J.B. Smoove which was ruined by the trailers in the first place, and another towards the film’s climax that left me hoping for a couple of giant hooks to relieve the stars of The Office and 30 Rock of their misery.) With a running time of only 88 minutes, Date Night still just doesn’t have enough material to fill the space, so director Shawn Levy relies on Carell and Fey to stretch the humor farther than it should be trying to go. The amusing cameos fill in some of the gaps, but not quite enough. It’s a relatively enjoyable movie with laughs sprinkled throughout, and its surprisingly full supporting cast helps to carry it over the would-be dull spots. I suppose I’m required to say that it’s sufficient entertainment for a date night of your own, and really, I guess that’s all it’s trying to be.