Date Night (15)

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The Independent Culture

Date Night is also a comedy about family values, but it has the opposite problem: it wants to celebrate these values, not satirise them, while also playing anarchic and sexy and rude.

Tina Fey and Steve Carell play a suburban New Jersey couple, who between their kids and their careers are exhausted and dispirited, and who fear the fate of their best friends – a couple who, having ended up as "excellent room-mates", have called it a day. They decide to spice things up with an evening in Manhattan, at a cool new restaurant. Unable to get a table, they impulsively swipe one reserved for someone else. Unfortunately, the couple whose table they have swiped are a pair of lowlifes who have stolen something important from the Mob; and our heroes end up on the run, desperate to trace the MacGuffin that will buy them safety.

Word from America was mixed: some reviewers thought Date Night was a neat, enjoyable comedy; others said it wasn't worth of its stars. In fact, there is nothing incompatible about these two statements: Fey and Carell are brilliant, but the lines aren't always as sharp as their delivery of them, and the plot really doesn't bear scrutiny. The basic gag is the clash between their dull domestic lives and the extremity of the situation they find themselves in, and at times it is funny. Fleeing a volley of bullets through Central Park, Carell yells, "We're going to die," and Fey shrieks, "I don't want the kids to live with your mother, she's horrible." (Fey's timing and intonation are immaculate: I can't think of another comedian who can deliver a line so crushingly.) But as the situation gets more extreme, and the whole family situation gets left behind, the film gets much funnier – the climax being a sexy dance in a lap-dancing club (a libidinous crook slobbering implausibly over the perverted delights he imagines they're offering). And there are times – notably a climactic speech that Carell has to make about how he just wanted to restore the romance to his marriage – when the need to drag in family values brings everything down.

There are plenty of incidental pleasures, among which I would not number Mark Wahlberg's appearance as a shirtless security expert (a whole slew of jokes depends on the notion that women are irresistibly attracted by his walnut face: I can't see it). James Franco, on the other hand, is nicely cast against type as a tattooed petty thief; and Ray Liotta is perfectly typecast as a Mob boss. The best joke, by the way, is a running gag in which Fey and Carell try to explain how they got into this mess: as soon as they mention that it started when they took somebody else's restaurant reservation, whoever they're talking to – hitmen, detectives, corrupt public officials – reacts as if they'd admitted to molesting children. Which, obviously, they'd never do: it would be terrible box office.