One tiny slip from the straight and narrow can have devastating long-term consequences. That’s the lesson that the Fosters (Steve Carrel and Tina Fey) learn during the light-hearted yet deadly escapades involved in DATE NIGHT. The material itself isn’t the most substantial, and there are distinct echoes other flicks, think THE OUT OF TOWNERS, or even one of Hitchcock’s many explorations of innocent people suddenly embroiled in danger not of their making, but Carrell and Fey use it and their considerable gifts to prove that they are an inspired duo incapable of being anything less than comedic perfection.
The Fosters, tax-accountant Phil and realtor Claire, have a comfortable, caring relationship in which sex has become a rarity, but courtesy has not. Despite a few issues, he never closes drawers, she never trusts him to do anything around the house, their two kids dive-bombing them awake at unreasonably early hours, theirs is a solid, if predictable marriage. Or so they think until another couple announce their splitting over boredom and the Fosters decide to liven things up with a glamous night in Manhattan instead of their usual date night in their New Jersey hometown. Once there, though, unable to get a table at their trendy restaurant of choice, they steal another couple’s reservation, and the evening, despite an excellent truffled risotto, goes downhill from there.
Mistaken for the couple whose reservations they have poached, they are soon on the run from thugs demanding a mysterious flash drive and police who have their own questions about what the Fosters are up to, not to mention being held up by their babysitter, who knows when the time is ripe for milking a situation for all it’s monetary possibilities.
Against seemingly insurmountable odds, this upper-middle class couple, bereft of money, transportation, or the security of knowing who the good guys from the bad, rise to the occasion through perilous situations, dangerous car chases, and assorted criminal offenses, petty and not, in their quest to stay alive. Mostly through dumb luck, the element of surprise on the part of those chasing them when they elude capture, and a dogged determination that makes up for their lack of expertise in this new milieu in which they find themselves.
Though Fey is delightfully acerbic with her sly wit, and Carrell equally delightful with his sly irony, they establish an unexpectedly sweet rapport, making the stakes at hand, be it rescuing their marriage from its comfortable rut, or their very lives from the very bad people out to snuff them out, equally compelling. The only time the film hits a snag, though, is when the script has them parsing their relationship during one of the lulls in the action. Everything they discuss has been implied, from the way they make up stories about other diners to amuse themselves, to the depths of their pair bonding and the lengths they are willing to go for one another, including Claire donning a corset and attempting to work a stripper pole because of Phil’s secret plan to save them, and Phil declaring with perfect candor, and not a little angst, that a set of perpetually displayed pecs of epic proportions, the ones Claire can’t take her eyes off, make him want to commit suicide.
DATE NIGHT refreshingly eschews the raunchy, despite the stripper pole and what is done to a chicken nugget that is genuinely disturbing. Instead, it is smartly acted, cleverly directed, while proving that wildly funny and wildly romantic can be a perfect match.