Rating: 3 out of 5
When a marriage has stagnated, as it may after a certain number of years of hitherto bliss, it’s been said that role-playing can help.
For the happily-married suburbanite Fosters (Steve Carell and Tina Fey), at a time when the ‘zing’ has gone out of their lives, and comfortable routines are all that’s left, a sudden role-playing impulse (the PG version, his idea) goes terribly awry on one of their usual date nights.
Unable to get a table at one of the trendiest restaurants in town, they assume the identities and steal the reservation – an innocuous misdemeanour in their minds, a heinous crime to everyone else they later meet – of an unknown couple, who turn out to be blackmailers sought by a sinister mobster.
A case of mistaken identities and comic hijinks, set on one long night, ensue.
Date Night appears to be a typical ‘hiatus’ movie, a relatively low-budget vehicle for two bankable stars with hit television shows shot while they’re on a break from their day jobs.
As such, it was no surprise to see Carell and Fey, on break from shooting The Office and 30 Rock respectively, playing characters that were rather straightforward and within their range.
A believable and likable couple, the Fosters are essentially square, unadventurous 40-somethings who have done reasonably well for themselves professionally, and have two young, rambunctious children who suck the life and sexual impulse right out of them.
The humour of this film is derived from their utter ordinariness, thrust into a totally alien cat-and-mouse thriller scenario filled with crooked cops, ransom schemes, gun fights and car chases. Of course, the Fosters are able to throw out witty one-liners better than most, but who cares, it’s a movie.
For the most part, the goofy Carell and Fey, who have each grown tremendously popular in recent years, are thoroughly watchable and enjoyable. The film is able to sketch them out rather well as mid-lifers worried about their viability as a couple, and if life still holds any surprises for them.
However, while the audience may grow to care for the principle characters, such a film usually operates within a fairly safe range, meaning that secondary characters and plot developments are simply and efficiently introduced and dealt with – after all, the film’s only 87 minutes long.
Recognised actors such as Taraji P Henson, Jimmi Simpson, Common, William Fichtner, Kristen Wiig, Mark Ruffalo, Mila Kunis, JB Smoove and Leighton Meester barely have enough screen time to be considered more than cameos.
Only Mark Wahlberg, playing a former client of the real-estate agent Mrs Foster, and his chiselled body have any significant screen time, because he is needed for a recurring joke targeted at shirtless hunks like ‘Marky’ Mark himself.
Overall, the film is well-made and may impress with its insights on modern marriage and the strains of raising a family – those of similar age-range may nod knowingly during the film – but the tired final act places an unfairly heavy burden on the actors and their skill with physical comedy.
As date movies go, Date Night is predictably funny in parts, predictably dull in others (some dramatic scenes), and predictably comfortable to view with a partner.
Maybe a little bit more role-playing is required to raise it above mediocrity, but then, that might be something best-suited for another ‘marriage’ and another more ambitious or complex movie.
About Yong Shu Chiang
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.
"Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in!"
– Michael Corleone, The Godfather Part III