Date Night

I’m guessing Josh Klausner got paid a lot of money for what was actually one of the easiest jobs in show business this year. He’s credited as the screenwriter for Date Night, but I think we can all safely assume that he wrote a basic plot outline on a piece of paper, sat back with a Fresca and a bag of gummi bears, and (along with director Shawn Levy) watched as Tina Fey and Steve Carell did their thing.

Playing tired, stale, married Jersey suburbanites Phil and Claire Foster, the two actors spend almost every one of the movie’s 89 minutes proving to audiences why, exactly, they are two of the more purely funny people working today.

After hearing that their two good friends (Kristen Wiig and Mark Ruffalo in great cameos) are getting divorced, the Fosters decide it’s time to step things up a notch… which, to them, means (ooh, crazy!) dinner for two in Manhattan.

The plot then veers dangerously close to been-there-done-that territory, as everything that can go wrong does. It’s The Out-of-Towners (the original Jack Lemmon-Sandy Dennis version, not the atrocious Steve Martin-Goldie Hawn remake) with locals. The Fosters know their way around New York City– they just don’t expect that the simple act of ‘stealing’ another couple’s reservation in an über-trendy Village eatery would result in them getting taken at gunpoint, mixed up in a mob-fueled extortion case, and thrown into a high-speed chase in a $150K Audi.

Yes, the plot is a little over-the-top (All of a sudden we’re meant to believe that Claire knows how to break into an office building? Or than Phil can, in a matter of seconds, go from stripping the car’s clutch to deftly maneuvering it through the streets of Manhattan?) but somehow we believe it, since Carell and Fey keep things so grounded. Their comic timing and textbook ad-libbing skills make Date Night non-stop funny.

You’ll laugh early, and you’ll laugh often, and the best part is that it’s not just a two-man (er, one man and one woman) show. There’s enough comedic talent here to take at least some of the burden off the two stars. From James Franco and Mila Kunis as low-rent thugs, to Ray Liotta as (surprise!) the head mobster, to Mark Wahlberg as the scene-stealing shirtless wonder who helps the Fosters when they need him most, Date Night has more than enough talent to go around.

There’s truly something here for everyone. Parents (particularly those who relish date nights themselves) will laugh both at the booger-filled, early-wakeup life that the Fosters are trying to temporarily escape, and at their subsequent evolution into a goofball Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Non-parents will laugh themselves silly at the night that quickly spirals out of control and becomes a stage for a hilarious slapstick comedy.

While there’s no room (nor need) for a sequel, Hollywood would be doing itself a huge disservice if it didn’t immediately start finding more ways for Carell and Fey to work together… even if it’s just having TGS start buying its paper supplies from Dunder-Mifflin.

4/5 stars