“Date Night” stars two of TV sit-coms most recognizable actors: Steve Carell (of ”The Office”) and Tina Fey (of “30 Rock” by way of “Saturday Night Live”). They play a New Jersey suburban couple, Phil and Claire Foster, whose lives have become, well, predictable. When they head out for the weekly date, it’s always to the same restaurant, to order the same food, from the same waiter. The only variation in their routine comes from the other couples in the place, who provide the fodder for a game the Fosters play called “What’s the Story?” In it, they imagine the situation and conversations their meal mates are having. Several such scenes use the stars’ ad-libbing talent to comic effect, and the line is turned neatly at the film’s end.
On the way there, the couple get involved in enough adventures to last a lifetime. Their first break from the quotidienne routine comes when they make the daring leap of “stealing” a dinner reservation at a fancy Manhattan eatery. (This becomes one of the movie’s best running jokes, as various New Yorkers react as if the Fosters had committed a felony.) Things get quickly more serious when a pair of thugs mistake the innocents for a pair of real thieves who, they claim, have taken a flash drive from their mobster boss, played by Ray Liotta.
Escaping—via slow-motion rowboat in Central Park!—the Fosters face the impossible task of convincing the thugs of their mistake or finding the real thieves and talking them into surrendering the flash drive. Neither of these looks like a winner, but, hey! this is farce, so we have no real concern that the intrepid outsiders won’t surmount sundry obstacles and put matters—including their increasingly boring marriage—back to rights. They even get help from Mark Wahlberg as a covert ops kinda guy who Claire has a thing for, much to Phil’s jealous dismay.
Director Shawn Levy and screenwriter Josh Klausner play the middle of the movie pretty much by the book, giving the stars their turns at one-liners and repartee, pratfalls and mugging. (And, no, Fey does not do her Sarah Palin bit.) But their best scenes come as they interact with the thieves “Taste” and “Whippit” (played over the top by James Franco and Mila Kunis) and, later, have to improvise a pole dance for a crooked D.A. (William Fichtner). The film’s only real hilarity is generated by a car chase—not exactly a new idea—but one in which two cars, locked grille to grille are chased by both the thugs and the cops. (A tip of the hat to J. B. Smoove in the small but crucial role of the cabbie in this comedy staple that ends up, a la Mack Sennett, in the water.)
“Date Night” is rated “PG-13” for language, some comic violence, and sexual innuendo. As the title suggests, it will be a good date night movie, though I suspect the audience is a bit older than the usual target group. If the comic momentum occasionally lags or feels forced, this is still a competent, entertaining effort.