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When you watch a movie like Date Night, it's easy to see why Steve Carell has decided to say farewell to Dunder-Mifflin and The Office. While not as funny as The 40 Year Old Virgin, perhaps, Carell is nevertheless perfectly cast as a rather ordinary middle-aged father. The on-screen chemistry he shares with movie wife Tina Fey throughout this madcap romp of a movie carries us through the absurdities. Both are effortlessly funny, affable, and painfully believable as a boring couple who spontaneously take a chance in life, only to have life chew them up and spit them out all over the city. I think a lot of us can relate to that.
The set-up is pretty simple. Steve Carell and Tina Fey are the Fosters, an ordinary middle-aged couple who live the kind of boring suburban lives too many of us find ourselves stuck in. After some friends of theirs divorce, out of boredom more than anything, Phil (Carell) decides they need to spice up their weekly "date night" and takes Claire (Fey) to a fancy restaurant in Manhattan. The only problem: they don't have reservations. The solution arises when the Tripplehorns are a no-show, and Phil steps into their reservations...and their problems.
Up to this point in the movie, things are incredibly mundane, to the point of near boredom, but that's intentional on the parts of writer Josh Klausner and director/producer Shawn Levy. In order for the later insanity to work, we have to believe in the reality of this couple. This isn't Mr. and Mrs. Smith we're watching here. They're not physically or mentally equipped to handle getting shot at, mobsters, car chases, or the world of espionage, subterfuge, and blackmail in which the Tripplehorn identity immerses them.
After meeting the real Tripplehorns, played by James Franco and Mila Kunis, I'm not sure they're equipped to live in that world either. The film is simply packed with action and comedy names like Common, Ray Liotta, William Fichtner, Kristen Wiig, and Leighton Meester. Even Olivia Munn and will.i.am show up to have some fun, but no one is as energetic and dominant on the screen as Kunis and Franco. They basically share one scene with Carell and Fey, a scene involving little more than yelling and talking, but it's easily one of the funniest in the film.
The plot becomes fairly formulaic as things progress, which is to be expected for a comedy of this type. There's a flash drive with some incriminating data on it, so the bad guys don't it to fall into the good guys' hands, and the Tripplehorns have it...which puts the Fosters in the crosshairs. The fun comes in the performances of Carell and Fey throughout, joined by the not-quite-all-star cast. A car-chase sequence featuring J.B. Smoove as a panicky cabbie might have looked completely ridiculous on paper, but Carell and Fey are so likable it works. Ditto for one of the most awkward stripping routines to ever grace the screen -- and I'm including the entirety of Showgirls in that comparison.
Because we spend some quality time with the Fosters, relating to their lives, in the early parts of the film, we become invested enough in them to carry us through. We want them to get through this hellacious night, and maybe even come out heroes. That's all you can really ask for in a movie like this, and it won't spoil much to tell you that we get the happy ending we build toward throughout the film.
Steve Carell and Tina Fey give top-notch performances in the film. If this is what Fey is capable of as a female lead, I can see her following Carell's lead out of her NBC show and onto the big screen. And if that happens, Hollywood comedies can only be the better for it.
Minute-for-minute, the extras actually provide more laughs than the film itself. As expected, Steve Carell and Tina Fey ad-libbed many of their lines, and "Alt City" showcases several of their better alternate takes. Also bringing the laughs is the "Gag Reel," which features mistakes, misfires, and actors laughing over their lines. If you want to see Carell and Fey walking into glass doors over and over again, this is the place for you. A couple of "PSAs" wrap the comedy side of the extras by encouraging boring couples to stop being so boring.
On the more serious side, you can spend some time with director Shawn Levy in "Directing 301," where he takes you behind the scenes of, well, a scene. Then, in "Directing Off Camera," we get to see a little-shown side of film-making, with Levy shouting stage directions to the cast during actual shooting. It's particularly funny when he's shouting random suggestions to Carell and Fey during the stripping scene, and even more impressive that they not only do most of them, but they never break character.
The balance of funny and genuine insight into the making of the movie creates a well-rounded DVD experience that I definitely appreciated. More importantly, I was able to enjoy the finished product even more with the inclusion of these extras, which is supposed to be the point of them in the first place. Kudos all around on that one.
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