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With Reservations

April 12th, 2010 No comments

I’d been looking forward to Date Night from the moment I heard of it. Steve Carell and Tina Fey trying to survive a romantic action comedy? Bring it!

Really, the only thing puzzling about the teaming of Fey and Carell is that it took this long. As other reviews have noted, they’re completely convincing as long-married couple Phil and Claire*. They seem so at ease with each other as performers that one might think that they had worked together for many years rather than merely sharing adjacent timeslots on NBC.

Date Night itself is sort of a duo, but its two sides aren’t quite as compatible. One is the mistaken-identity, crooks-and-chases, screwball comedy promised by the trailers. The other movie roiling beneath that surface is one about the quiet desperation of two people married for so many years that they risk becoming “awesome roommates.”

Thankfully, the filmmakers mostly stuck to the screwball. Because that other movie trying to get out would’ve been kinda depressing. As it was, there were moments–particularly a pulled-over-to-the-side-of-the-road discussion that showed Fey’s acting chops–that hit a little too close to home.

In addition, the initial scenes of Fey and Carell putting themselves in the hands of a pair of corrupt, gun-wielding cops struck me as a bit too intense for what is otherwise a very silly story. (The couple were mistaken for a pair of criminals with an incriminating flash drive after stealing a reservation at a packed restaurant.)

While the caper aspects of the storyline weren’t especially believable, I did buy into Claire and Phil’s approach toward extricating themselves from the situation. Early on we saw them engaging in some clever mimicry of other restaurant patrons, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch for them to begin affecting makeshift disguises and stereotypical accents. And while Date Night never got as self-referential as the Scream films, I did have the sense that these were people who had watched entirely too many police procedural TV shows and were using what they’d learned.

There are some very funny parts, including an over-the-top chase involving two cars linked at their front bumpers. (I’ve never quite been sure why, but I always find hilarious scenes in which people scream and scream and scream.) On the other hand, a tandem pole-dancing number for the benefit of the evil D.A. (played by the creepy, alien sheriff from the TV series Invasion) went on perhaps a bit too long.

While Date Night may not have been quite as good as Fey’s first feature film, Mean Girls, I hope that she tries another action comedy. Especially if Steve Carell can play as well.

*Coincidentally, Phil and Claire are also the names of one of the married couples on the ABC sitcom Modern Family.

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