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It is amazing what a month can do to change one’s tastes. I’m a fan of Steve Carell, have been since his days on “The Daily Show”, but recently couldn’t get past how much I hated his role in “The Office”, not to mention having wrote off the show last season. And then there’s Tina Fey, a comedienne that I respect and thought did a wonderful job with Mean Girls, but whom I really had no opinion of—I stopped watching “SNL” when Farley died. So, when the marketing push for their film Date Night began, ambivalence was a word that came to mind. It looked like it might be funny and I was sure I’d laugh at least a little bit; I just couldn’t bring myself to get excited with Shawn Levy’s attachment doing nothing to improve that feeling. However, just a few short weeks ago, I finally took the plunge into “30 Rock” looking to see if its genius was overblown. After about five episodes I was ready to say goodbye and it was Fey’s lackluster performance that stuck out. But then something happened, Alec Baldwin took more of a central role and Fey seized her opportunity to shine opposite him, excelling to full capacity. Now I’m her biggest fan, talked myself up to see Date Night, and had a fantastic time with it.

If I were to fault the film for anything, it would be its somewhat sluggish pace at times. I mean we are dealing with the most boring couple on earth, slogging away at their jobs to come home, take care of the kids, and hope they can remember to turn off the stove before passing out in a coma on the kitchen floor, burning the house down. They love each other and their two hyper kids, but the mundane routine of married life has gotten them down. The one thing they have for themselves is a weekly date night where they hire a sitter, re-talk themselves into going once she arrives, and visit the local suburban restaurant where the waiter knows their name. If not for a fun few rounds of “Mystery Science Theater”-ing other couples eating with snide remarks and jealous pangs for the love some feel for one another, they’d probably be happy just sitting in silence to rejoice in the short moment of peace and quiet. Even book night has become a chore; one more façade to hide behind and pretend everything is all right. Then the inevitable happens, a couple they are friends with shares that they are getting divorced. So, Phil and Claire Foster decide to put the relationship in overdrive and hope a night downtown in NYC will spice things up.

Let’s just say they never expected what was to come. After taking the reservation of another couple that was MIA at the hottest seafood joint in the city, Claw—“Hello Claw, you’re welcome” is the phone answer of choice—their evening becomes mixed up in gangster blackmail and political larceny. Pretending to be the Triplehorns, they engage with a couple of heavies seeking a flashdrive their doppelgangers stole from the biggest kingpin in New York. Finding that ‘computer stick thingie’ becomes goal number one, leading the Fosters to physically assault their captors, engage in breaking and entering as well as auto theft, hold the real fake Triplehorns hostage at gunpoint, partake in a huge car chase I never saw coming, and even get busy with the stripper pole. This laundry list of crazy situations more than makes up for the few lulls in the action, allowing both Carell and Fey to epitomize the square middle-aged couple so out of their element that they actually seem to know what they are doing. Only a woman scared out of her mind can pull off the “I’m going to count to three” trick she uses on her kids to make a cartel of gun-toting murderers put down their weapons.

And with insane plot points comes the availability for numerous supporting roles that become filled with a stellar cast of familiar faces. Right from the start you get a solid performance from both Mark Ruffalo and Kristen Wiig as the divorcing couple—Wigg shines while Ruffalo just does what he has to do; following is Jimmi Simpson and Common portraying the menacing hitmen on their tail; Taraji P. Henson effectively does the detective that knows something is up and is willing to follow it through; and William Fichtner appears towards the end as one messed up human being, doubling as the city’s new D.A. All that and I haven’t even mentioned the best cameos by James Franco and Mila Kunis as Taste and Whippit, the couple posing as the Triplehorns and in possession of the flashdrive. Franco shows once more, like in Pineapple Express, how great a comedic talent he is, and Kunis completes the duo to perfection. They are the mirrored opposites of Carell and Fey’s couple, leading to a wonderful exchange with the foursome partaking in an apartment room standoff. Oh, and don’t forget Mark Wahlberg as the shirtless secret government contractor helping the leads out. His role is priceless for Carell’s constant disgust and jealously, unable to look anywhere else but his pectorals.

Not to ruin the jokes or intricacies of both leads’ eccentric personalities, I won’t go into detail on where the night leads them. Let’s just say Fey’s Claire is a master at improvising her way out of sticky situations and Carell’s Phil is possibly the worst idea maker in the history of mankind. But those traits lead into some of the funniest bits of the film. I made mention of the numerous situations they soon find themselves in the middle of, but I didn’t say how much two of them made me laugh non-stop. In what could be the greatest comedic car chase ever put to film, I give writer Josh Klausner and whomever else helped him think about having a crash connect two cars by their front bumpers to still be used in a high speed pursuit. The simple fact of it actually happening may be hilarious, but the performance by J.B. Smoove only makes it funnier. And then there is the strip club scene at the end. You know putting Fey and Carell in proximity to a pole is ripe for comic wonders, but the entire sequence from start to finish—with a lot of help from Fichtner—rivals that car chase for biggest laughs of the year thus far. Thank you Steve and Tina and all your little friends because Date Night seriously was a great time at the movies. The real laugh, though, is on NBC/Universal, (home of both stars’ hit TV shows), for letting Fox make this gem.

Date Night 8/10

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photography:
[1] In the midst of the date night from hell, Claire (Tina Fey) and Phil (Steve Carell) make a frantic call for help. Photo credit: Myles Aronowitz
[2] The unconventional Whippit (Mila Kunis) and Taste (James Franco) are about to have a very strange encounter with a married couple on a date night. Photo credit: Suzanne Tenner

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