Date Night

Director: Shawn Levy
Starring: Tina Fey, Steve Carell, Mark Wahlberg, James Franco, Mila Kunis, Ray Liotta
Review: 3 stars (of five)

Date Night is a fine little date movie—light, with some laughs and some thrills and a nice little ending.

The premise is simple: Married suburbanites have lost the spark, and in trying to spice up their usual “date night” routine, stumble into an action flick full of violence, corruption and car chases. Will they survive the night—and will this put the fun back into their marriage? What makes the execution interesting is that the plot is fairly tight, the action well-executed (particularly a car chase that’s actually inventive), and the characters are given room to breathe.

The script combines relationship moments with thriller chaos in a nice way, but the story never achieves greatness. It’s more Baby Mama than Mean Girls; not quite Evan Almighty, but no 40-Year-Old Virgin, either. Often what carries a scene is the charisma of Carell and Fey, and without them the material might not have held up well. Backing the two stars are some nice minor turns by Mark Wahlberg, Ray Liotta and, as a pair of sketchy young lovers, Mila Kunis and James Franco.

In a series of outtakes in the final credits, we’re shown flubbed takes and improvised line readings by the two stars, and while that makes sure the audience goes out smiling, it also underlines the good choices made by Levy. A lot of the rejected versions are broader, better suited to a Saturday Night Live skit or the kind of loud humor Carell brought to The Daily Show. Keeping the characters more believable was a smart move.

It’s a romantic comedy that ignores the Standard Hollywood Formula for Romantic Comedies* and it does a surprising job of containing two big talents given to broad comedy and making them real—a funny couple, but a believable one.

*Couple meets; fall madly in love; split over a simple misunderstanding any reasonable adult would clear up in 30 seconds; run into each other six minutes before the credits roll, and kiss. Rinse, repeat, retitle.