' Cinema Romantico: Date Night

Monday, April 19, 2010

Date Night

Scenes Worth The Price Of Admission. This is the moviegoing phenomenon whereby a movie mired in mediocrity can momentarily be redeemed - and, in fact, justify the usually exorbitant ticket price - by a single scene that somehow stands above all the muck situated before and after it, a scene that makes you shake your head and wonder aloud, "Why couldn't the entire movie have been like that?"

"Date Night", an amalgamation of "After Hours", "Adventures in Babysitting", and the "Seinfeld" episode where Jerry and George masquerade as Murphy and O'Brien to score a free limo ride, is a movie with a Scene (Totally) Worth The Price Of Admission. The rest is dubious. Phil and Claire Foster (comedic superteam Steve Carrell and Tina Fey) are a self-proclaimed "boring couple from New Jersey" who for their traditional Date Night decide to take things up a notch and go into the city and to a sushi restaurant where reservations are nearly impossible to attain and, thus, when the hostess comes around calling out for the "Tripplehorns" and the Tripplehorns refuse to respond Phil decides to live large and take the reservation that is not theirs.

A little while later two men turn up at the table and ask them to step outside. Phil and Claire, of course, assume the reservation jig is up. Except when they do get outside and into the alley the two men draw guns and demand a flash drive. Uh oh. And so Date Night begins in earnest as Phil and Claire's descent into a humorous Manhattan hell that will find them crossing the paths of a mobster (Ray Liotta), a crooked district attorney (William Fichtner) and a former real estate client of Claire's (an always shirtless Mark Wahlberg) who will offer crucial assistance a time or two, as they battle to save both their lives and their marriage.

The film makes an interesting choice by employing the chemistry of its two talented leads as its primary source of funny. The gags and one-liners, surprisingly, aren't all that great. There is more straight action than you would expect. You wonder how often Carrell and Fey improvised their best material. (Consider the scenes where they mimic other diners' conversations.) They certainly feel like a real couple, stuck in the doldrums, and I liked the sequence where they were on the street corner completely out of sorts and Carrell was throwing up from nerves and no one walking by cared or even noticed which felt authentic. But more often than not director Shawn Levy's movie is stuck in a low, lackluster hum when such an abusrd premise demands a kick into serious overdrive. Which brings me to....

The real Tripplehorns whom, of course, Phil and Claire will eventually have to meet. Midway through they turn up in the form of James Franco and Mila Kunis and for their lone scene - the finest five minutes I have witnessed at a movie this year - a film that had caused me to casually chuckle here and there suddenly made me laugh for real - way, way out loud, both clapping my hands and stomping my foot. They are not simply hilarious - though, rest assured, they are, almost every single line they say being truly excellent (my favorite, and, don't worry, because it's out of context: "I won a ribbon!") - but also convincing. They're in love. They're the couple "Date Night" should have been about. Wild, woozy, inspired, it is 100% comedy gold. And for a fleeting second as the scene neared its conclusion I thought the real Tripplehorns might team up with Phil and Claire Foster. Alas, it was not to be.

As Franco and Kunis disappeared out the window and down the fire escape I wanted to call out to them, in all sincerity, "Please take me with you!"

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