The third time's the charm thanks to Date Night, a likable lark that just makes the cut due largely to the appeal of stars Steve Carell and Tina Fey. After suffering through the dreadful one-two sucker punch of Did You Hear About the Morgans? and The Bounty Hunter, it's nice to cozy up to a decent comedy that also centers on a marital couple trying to stay one step ahead of murderous thugs.
The chemistry between Bounty's Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston was even more non-existent than that between Morgans' Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker, but that's clearly not the case here. As Jersey suburbanites Phil and Claire Foster, Carell and Fey not only bounce off each other as accomplished comedians, but they're also completely believable as a longtime married couple who love each other but worry that all excitement has been drained from their union. On one of their patented date nights away from the kids and other familial obligations, they opt to forego the usual salmon 'n' potato skins at the local dive in order to head to Manhattan for a swanky dinner at a posh new seafood restaurant. Unable to secure seats (as the haughty maitre d' informs them, reservations are required a month in advance), they decide to pose as the Tripplehorns when the latter-named fail to turn up when their table is called. Unfortunately for Phil and Claire, their impulsive act leads to a case of mistaken identity straight out of Alfred Hitchcock: As in North by Northwest and Saboteur (to name but two), good people find themselves running from dangerous villains while trying to clear their names and escape with all vital organs intact.
Shawn Levy is a mediocre director at best (Night at the Museum, ill-advised remakes of The Pink Panther and Cheaper by the Dozen), which explains why the movie grinds to a dead halt whenever the attention shifts from the leading players' personalities to the usual bouts of gunplay and vehicular destruction. But the film clicks whenever Carell and Fey are allowed to fully engage each other, whether they're serving up the anticipated comic riffs or, somewhat unexpectedly, settling down to discuss the commonplace difficulties faced by married couples who feel they can no longer surprise (or even excite) their partners. And while most of the supporting characters are stock (crooked cops, sleazy mob kingpin, sassy babysitter, etc.), there's a nice contribution by Mark Wahlberg as a buff security expert whose religion apparently prohibits the donning of shirts -- this macho man's perpetual refusal to cover his bulging pecs proves to be a bright running gag. Add to this some clever pop-culture references (quips involving Cyndi Lauper and Fat Albert made me laugh long and loud), and the end result is a pleasant date night at the movies -- nothing more, nothing less.