Monday, April 12, 2010

Movie Review: Date Night

As with every review, there was a buttload more things I wanted to talk about in this Date Night review...which is why God invented the Internet. If I had the space, I would have talked more about the cameos, which were great. Specifically, James Franco and Mila Kunis, who played white trash, low-rent criminals. Franco is quickly becoming one of my favorite guys in Hollywood, if only for his willingness to do crazy shit for fun without ever worrying about his reputation. Dude starred on a soap opera recently for what amounts to extra credit for his NYU degree. And Kunis...what can I say? Not only is she proving to be equally hilarious, she has become just luminous. Seriously, they tried to make her look like a 3-dollar skank and she looked like this:
Yeah, that's her looking "ugly." Between that cameo and Kristen Wiig showing up briefly just for funsies, I thought the little things worked well in the film. More than that, I was struck by the sincerity that Steve Carell is able to pull off. I'm not going to lie, a certain person that I took to see the movie got more than a little misty eyed during Carell's final monologue about being willing to "do it all again." Not only was the message unique for Hollywood (be thankful for the long-term, committed love that you have because "the chase" is overrated), but the ability of Carell to be sincere, even in a ridiculous setting, is pretty much what sets him apart from other comedic actors out there. Oh, and although the film did a pretty good job flipping some obvious gender roles and exploitative elements around (specifically in the climactic strip club scene...which in any other movie would probably have had the lead actress actually get slutty and seduce the villain), I have to giggle a little that Fey agreed to wear the cleavage-tastic dress throughout the ENTIRE movie...until she switched into lingerie. We live in a world where Tina Fey is a sex symbol. I love it.

Enough already, here's my review:

Monogamy Sans Monotony
Date Night is a defense-of-marriage action movie

Like a suddenly rocket-less Wile E. Coyote briefly hanging midair after furiously flapping his arms, Date Night sort of takes flight based solely on the force of will exerted by Tina Fey and Steve Carell. Saddled with an albatross-esque script and a director (Shawn Levy) whose filmography reads like a list of cinematic hate crimes (Just Married, both Night at the Museums), the two Second City improv alums grabbed the film by the shoulders, slapped it senseless and yelled “don’t you die on me” until it finally registered a pulse. Maybe that’s why “30 Rock” and “The Office” are having off years: their leads are exhausted.

The only passably intelligent design involved here is the long overdue reading of the words “adult comedy” to mean something other than f-bombs and dick jokes. With a moral that can best be summarized as “embrace your grown-up, committed routine or die,” some of the best laughs come not from the zany, shenanigan-laden plot developments but from Carell and Fey cracking-wise on the quirks of adult responsibilities. Although the opening presents the loving-but-tired couple as creaking beneath the burden of childcare and 50-hour work weeks, the nonsense that follows reveals a surprisingly heartwarming and effective approval of no-frills monogamy.

Now, on to the nonsense: Phil (Carell) and Claire (Fey) steal reservations at a posh seafood establishment, only to be accosted by two dirty cops (Common and Jimmi Simpson) searching for a flash drive stolen by the couple who actually had the reservation. Claire uses an old real estate contact and private securities expert, Holbrooke (Mark Wahlberg), to track down the real criminal couple, Taste (James Franco) and Whippit (Mila Kunis), in the hopes of returning the drive to a mob boss (Ray Liotta) in exchange for their lives. It does not go well.

You can almost hear Fey and Carell’s eyes roll when they are forced to engage in undignified physical monkeyshines. Really, Mr. Levy, another “someone walks into a glass door” joke? For shame, you boob. Undaunted, the duo try to class up the joint with an onslaught of obviously improvised one-liners, ranging from the hilarious declaration by Carell that turning a gun sideways ensures a “kill shot” to Fey’s retort to a woman’s dream of having sex with three men: “I have stress dreams about that.” Sure, Carell’s gaffe-happy husband and Fey’s awkwardly hot housewife aren’t exactly playing fast and loose with their well-established wheelhouses, but they swing so hard at anything near their strike zone that it’s easy to forgive them.

Although every subplot and minor character beat is as tired and obvious as a Sarah Palin joke, Date Night is fresh in unique ways. In any other movie, Wahlberg’s perfectly sculpted physique wouldn’t be the butt of a joke but a tantalizing feature. The punchline is that boring, placid domestic life is to be cherished and admired. Combine that with two stars on the top of their game, and you have a recipe for a harmless, affable comedy that’s hard to hate on.

Grade = B

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