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Just for the Fun of It

Tina Fey and Steve Carrell are two of the funniest actors working today, and “Date Night” has more than enough funny moments that live up to their talent.  They play a “boring couple from New Jersey,” Phil Foster, an accountant, and Claire Foster, a real estate agent, with two small children and no energy left for each other.

   Shaken by the news that close friends are divorcing, Phil and Claire decide to take their weekly date night to the next level, leaving behind the usual dull chain restaurant for a Manhattan hot spot called Claw. Unable to get a table, they steal a reservation from a no-show party, the Tripplehorns, and the wine and wit start flowing.  Before long, however, a couple of thugs mistake them for the the Tripplehorns, who apparently are mixed up in criminal dealings that point back to a mob boss  (Ray Liotta, who could do this role in his sleep, and maybe does) or perhaps some corrupt cops.

   Forced to run for their lives, they turn to Claire’s former client, security expert Holbrooke Grant (Mark Wahlberg, and his pecs, which should get their own billing) for help, and the scenes between Wahlberg, Fey (who goes melty in his presence), Carrell (looking anxiously at those pecs), and Gal Gadot as Holbrooke’s gorgeous Israeli girlfriend, are the most consistently funny.

   The resulting all- night chase through New York’s seedy underworld even manages to put a few new twists on hoary cliches like car chases and break-ins.  Claire and Phil find sides of themselves they never knew they had, masterminding a series of intrigues that lead them to the heart of the intrigue, which (of course) goes to the highest level of city government.

   Directed by Shawn Levy, who specializes in noisy hectic comedies with squishy sentimental moments (Night at the Museum, Cheaper by the Dozen), the film has its clunky moments, and from time to time comes to a dead stop so Fey and Carrell can gaze into each others’  eyes and confess their true feelings about marriage and parenthood. (I did laugh when Claire said all she wanted was to sit alone in a quiet room, with nobody touching her. That includes children for whom it comes as a big surprise, every night, that they have to wear pajamas.)

   It’s also filled with tasty supporting roles played by actors like Wahlberg, Mark Ruffalo and Kristen Wiig.  The funniest of these are James Franco and Mila Kunis, as the “real”  Tripplehorns, actually named Taste and Whippit, whom Claire and Phil finally track down in order to demand the missing Macguffin — I mean flash drive, which has something vital on it. Taraji P. Henson adds warmth and gravity as Detective Arroyo, who actually believes Phil and Claire’s story.

   It’s Fey and Carrell who hold the film together, though. They never lose grip of the plausibility of two ordinary people caught in a nightmare, staying the calm normal center while craziness happens all around them. Their comic timing and obvious ease with each other keep things hopping even during ridiculous plot turns.

   Be sure to stay all the way to the end of the credits — the outtakes and improvisations are funnier than anything in the film (and even give a little insight into the creative process).

 

 â€œDate Night” is playing at The Moviehouse in Millerton, NY, and is rated PG-13 for drug, sex and crude content.

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