Date Night

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Posted April 8, 2010 in Film

Is it because Steve Carell is so likable that Hollywood always casts him as a goon? A dork is fine—he’s made his reputation with dorks—but post-40 Year Old Virgin he’s played a series of mouth-breathers. Date Night isn’t a good movie, but his character is the right direction. In it, Carell is allowed to be an actual leading man, not a subversion of one. He’s handsome and capable—a man who gets laid on the regular—even though once again, his innate kindness is spun to mean effeminate. Carell and Tina Fey make great fictional marrieds. Fey makes credible a comic strip swirl of emotions: she’s brave but insecure, tomboyish but jealous, a control freak who wants her man to take control. They get along so well as people that you can always understand why these two people got hitched, a core premise that’s shockingly absent from most spousal trauma sitcoms. Smartly, writer Josh Klausner hasn’t framed them as spiteful; their biggest fears aren’t adultery or hatred, it’s that they’ve become just "excellent roommates." But other than setting Carell and Fey free to improv some of their best lines, that’s the only smart move Klausner and director Shawn Levy make. Once the plot gets underway and Fey and Carell must dodge baddies (Common and Jimmi Simpson) who’ve mistaken them for thieves, it’s easy to see that this flick is just a skeleton praying its leads will bring it to life. They have kids (Jonathan Morgan Heit and Savannah Paige Rae) who barely register, best friends (Mark Ruffalo and Kristen Wiig) who vanish—even the crooked couple who gets them into this mess (James Franco and Mila Kunis) disappears after one scene. In place of these very funny talents, we’re given…car chases? And shoot outs? And a long scene where Fey and Carell dance the Robot at a mobster’s strip club? Talk about playing against your strengths. Date Night proves that Fey and Carell can do anything—even crack jokes while dodging bullets in Central Park. But they shouldn’t have to. And forcing them to carry a half-baked rom-com action flick is the worst torture of all.


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