The most common storytelling paradigm for movies now has to be the “fish out of water” theme. You know, a character is thrown into a situation counter to his or her normal way of being, and the audience sees what develops.
“Date Night” follows this paradigm. Phil and Claire Foster (Steve Carrell and Tina Fey) have been married and living in the Jersey suburbs for a while now. Phil is a tax attorney; Claire is a real estate agent. They have two kids and an average life. So average that when two friends announce their impending split, Phil and Claire re-examine their own relationship.
So taking a page out of the counselor’s handbook, these two decide to go into the city for a date night. A change of scenery and the excitement of the city, they think, will do them good. Maybe it will rekindle the flames of romance.
They go to a trendy seafood restaurant without a reservation. They decide to wait. And wait. But when the hostess calls several times for the Tripplehorns, who evidently are not there, Phil claims they are the Tripplehorns and takes the table.
But all turns sour when two thugs arrive at their table and insist Phil and Claire get up and go outside.
Believing that they are being sent out for wrongfully taking the reservation, they go. What they discover is that they took the reservation of a couple that has a jump drive owned by a mob boss (Ray Liotta). The other couple (the Tripplehorns) are blackmailing the mob boss, and Phil and Claire are now thought to be this couple.
What follows is a night full of misadventures for the Fosters. Along the way they meet the district attorney (William Fitchner), the couple whose reservation they took (James Franco and Mila Kunis), and a shirtless security expert played by Mark Wahlberg.
A movie like “Date Night” does not enhance cinema greatness. It’s not even a fantastic must-see movie. But what it does, it does well.
The farce is saved not by its story, but by its stars. Carrell and Fey are a wonderful combination. They masterfully play “old married folk.”
They are believable, embodying what we know about those of us who are married and with kids. When Phil hints that he wants sex – and we see his wife take out her mouth guard in the most unflattering and least sexy way possible – we all know what that is. And when she speaks of wrapping her mind around this after a long day at work and a night of cleaning up and other things, we all have been there. This kind of a touch adds to the connection with the audience.
And that is what this movie trades on: pure entertainment. Director Shawn Levy just wants us to identify with and enjoy the characters as the scenario of implausibility is pushed.
The enjoyment is found in Phil and Claire, who are played so well by Carrell and Fey. I took my wife on a date night to see this movie, and both of us laughed and walked away entertained by it. I think you and your spouse will as well – and that’s the highest praise a movie can get.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual and crude content throughout, language, some violence and a drug reference.
Director: Shawn Levy
Writer: Josh Klausner
Cast: Steve Carrell: Phil Foster; Tina Fey: Claire Foster; Mark Wahlberg: Holbrook; Jimmi Simpson: Armstrong; James Franco: Taste; Mila Kunis: Whippit.
The movie’s Web site is here.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.