The wrong reservation, the right couple ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Friday, April 16, 2010

The wrong reservation, the right couple

Date Night
My rating:

I have not watched either 30 Rock or The Office (the American version). Not that I don't want to, it's just that I have far too much on my plate already (e.g. maintaining this blog) to keep up a regular TV-watching schedule. Any show I want to catch, I have to make a conscious decision to pick up the DVD boxset, and what with all the acclaim that both shows have been getting, I sometimes feel like I'm missing out. Date Night's big selling point is being the first on-screen pairing of each show's stars, and even though I'm not very familiar with them, I can dig it. So long as it has a solid plot for them to play in, it's all good.

It doesn't. But Tina Fey and Steve Carell? Made up for it better than fine.

Phil (Steve Carell) and Claire Foster (Tina Fey) are a nice, boring couple from New Jersey. Married-with-two-kids life has begun to drag, and even their weekly date night has turned into a chore. So they take a trip to a swanky Manhattan restaurant, and an eager-to-impress Phil steals another table's reservation - the Tripplehorns' - on an impulse. But they quickly find out that these are very bad identities to be mistaken for when two gun-toting goons (Jimmi Simpson and Common) threaten them, leaving them running for their lives and seeking the help of the perpetually half-naked Holbrooke Grant (Mark Wahlberg), a former client of Claire's who happens to be a high-tech security expert. They will encounter the real Tripplehorns (James Franco and Mila Kunis), a mob boss (Ray Liotta), a district attorney (William Fichtner), and enough wacky hijinks to make this the most eventful date night of their lives - if they survive it.

Once, in my wasted youth, I had pipe dreams of becoming a screenwriter. I found a wealth of screenwriting resources online - articles and columns on the craft of writing, as well as forums and communities of screenwriters both professional and aspiring. Even now, you may have noticed in my reviews that I tend to pay special attention to the storyline. I'm a story guy; other critics talk about cinematography and directorial styles, I pick on the script. And Date Night's (written by Josh Klausner) isn't a very good one. The third act especially falls apart with contrivances galore; characters forget things they should very well know in a lame attempt at keeping us, the audience, in suspense.

But I didn't really mind. Oh yes, I can already hear the cries of "Traitor!" from screenwriters everywhere, but I really didn't think the lousy script hurt the movie that much. Because it had Tina Fey and Steve Carell, and they are funny. I haven't laughed so much and so hard at a movie in ages, not even the last one I watched. Fey's and Carell's comic chemistry is a thing of beauty, enough to make even contrived scenarios hilarious - or at least overlook-able. Besides, you know you're in a movie that's willing to sacrifice plausibility for comedy when a tax lawyer and a real estate agent display an amazing talent for comic impressions, and use it to get themselves out of more than one scrape.

And I wished Klausner, and director Shawn Levy - who's mostly known for the Night at the Museum flicks - had gone with that crazy, anything-for-a-laugh sensibility, instead of tacking on a character arc for the Fosters. Klausner thought that the way to go with a premise like this is for our couple to work through their marital problems in the course of fighting for their lives - thing is, the Fosters don't have marital problems. They're unhappy with their lives but not with each other; Fey's and Carell's chemistry is one of loving familiarity, not constant bickering. It's nice that the action occasionally slows down to make pointed observations on how even the most loving relationships can become dull, but that thing about how Claire never trusts in Phil's plans? Unnecessary.

But it's still really, really funny. The unnecessary stuff and the bits that don't work don't detract from that - not even the fact that the supporting cast, comprised almost entirely of famous cameos, don't really stand out. Only James Franco and Mila Kunis does, as a much more low-rent couple whose relationship issues mirror the Fosters'; aside from them, only Mark Wahlberg has any significant screentime, and he's perfectly up to the task of walking around looking hunky. (Being an effective vehicle for funny shirtlessness jokes isn't funny in and of itself.) And William Fichtner, a terrific character actor, is strangely miscast in an over-the-top comic role. In the end, it all boils down to Fey and Carell, who literally save this movie from itself. It probably helps that they're both accomplished comedy writers as well as performers (in Fey's case, an award-winning one), and they most probably contributed some of the funniest lines.

Purely objectively speaking, Date Night only deserves three and a half stars. But film criticism is inherently subjective, and I didn't become one so I could coldly dissect the strengths and faults of the films I watch. I've done my best to highlight what I thought didn't work about the movie, so that four-star rating up there? Is how much I liked it. Fey and Carell need to do another movie together; perhaps not a sequel (what are Phil and Claire gonna do, steal another criminal couple's restaurant reservation?) but rather a new story and script that utilises their talents to the fullest. I'd be all over that like a mother-effer.

NEXT REVIEW: Shutter Island
Expectations: Scorsese does horror-thriller? This I gotta see


profwacko said...

Love this movie, very funny. This is the 2nd movie i laugh so hard after Adnan Sempit this year.

Steve Carell and Tina Fey were doing a good job in this movie. Love the robo dance scene. Lol.

Anonymous said...

i'm waiting for the review on Ice Kacang Puppy Love.^_^V

The Wan And Only said...

The ending with bloopers where Tina Fey and Steve Carell vamping it up was hilarious! :)

Anonymous said...

I once tried to 'steal' someone elses table reservation because it looked like they weren't going to arrive. They did. We didn't even get to order drinks.