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They should make more of these Date Night things….

2010/05/29

Holy hell, we actually got out to see a picture show in a real, live moving picture house!  That’s what you still call them, yes?  I was beginning to give up hope this would happen again for the next decade, but miracles do happen people, if you just believe!

As fate would have it, though, our unexpected free zone of time cropped up on a weekend that had little to tempt me to part with 20 bones plus the cost of corn. The Prince of Persia?  I have a very firm ‘No Gyllenhalls’ rule, and I’m not about to break that for a video-game property.  Robin Hood?  I’m pretty close to the same policy involving Russell Crowe.  Shrek Will Never Go Away?  Did I mention that the kids are gone?  Sex and the – you know what?  I’m going to stop right there.

That left Iron Man 2 – but the wife never sat down to watch the first part, and for unknown reasons preferred to opt out of the option that involved me spending three hours explaining the history of Marvel Universe and why it’s been a shrewd choice that The Leader hasn’t cropped up in the franchise yet.  So Date Night it was!

Allow me to digress for a moment – I get that a lot of folks are on the ‘Tina Fey sure is funny’ bandwagon, so I’ll try to keep this brief.  I think that’s selling her way short.  I truly believe that she is breathing rarified air and is one of the best comedic minds we’ve seen in twenty years – not ‘funny for a woman’, or ‘funny AND cute’ or any of that dismissive crap, just flat-out genius, because she can work in several styles and fashions in wicked-fast time while never losing her place.  Of all the SNL veterans that have ever made movies, and there’s a lot on that list, Fey is literally the ONLY one besides John Belushi who comes off as a real human being onscreen, not an extended charicature, and that’s hard to do apparently.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Bill Murray, a lot of Will Ferrell and Chevy and Murphy and Sandler and  Aykroyd, but subtlety, or not just ‘doing their schtick’ are not strong suits for graduates of the Lorne Michaels School….so enjoy the genius while she’s still doing it, kids.

And pairing her with Steve Carrell, another guy who can be as good as it gets when the stars align right?  Brilliant.  And that, in and of itself, is my opinion of Date Night. All in all, the build and structure of the story is fairly average – it’s a caper and hijinks premise.  Ordinary, run-of-the-mill couple decides to break out of their rut of ‘date nights’ of dinner at the same restaurant and a movie and change things up with a trip to the city for an expensive dinner at the trendiest place in Manhattan.

Or course, with no reservations they improvise and grab the reservation of another couple who haven’t shown up…and, just like in real life, that couple is being hunted down by a couple of dirty cops because they stole a flash drive from a mobster.  Mistaken identity! Yay for plot crutches!  Naturally, what then ensues are a lot of fish-out-of-water situations and so and so.  You know what?  This probably would have been barely watchable at best had it starred, say, Ashton Kutcher and Jennifer Aniston.  No offense to either, both have their place, but muddling through good comedy writing is one thing; grabbing a flimsy premise and making it something really enjoyable and funny is something else entirely.  And doing so without stooping down out and going for pure raunch, dick-and-fart jokes or any other forms of ‘aren’t these people totally stupid a-holes’ humor seems to be an art that’s lost to most current purveyors of filmed comedy. The fact that Date Night doesn’t just sink themselves into lowest-common-denominator comedy trend almost deserves an award in itself.  This is pretty clean stuff, all things considered.

Truly, though, the joy at the core of this movie’s success is the headliners.  I don’t care what the premise or the set-up is, Carrell and Fey should just plain be working together on a lot more things from here on out.  The pairing is magnificent, and neither one overshadows the other – in essence, they pull off an effective and natural ‘average married couple from New Jersey’ who both happen to be funny as hell.  Carrell is more reserved in this than in some outings, toning down the doofiness in favor of a regular guy feel, and that’s a great choice, and Fey is great as the pleasant-but-overtaxed-by-family-life partner.  Even in the most ludicrous of situations (see:  a car chase scene that actually made me laugh), the banter is easy, fast and fun, and what makes Date Night a cut above most other couple-based comedies.  5 out of 7.

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