Like "National Lampoon's Vacation," "Date Night" depends upon an audience's first-hand experiences for its humor. If you've ever gotten into a car and driven with your parents or children to a far-off vacation destination, every leg of the journey that the Griswalds take will tickle your funny bone. Same with "Date Night," which will appeal mostly to couples who've been married long enough to find an easy comfort living together and an uneasiness over those infrequent dates that have been pushed to the side along with other intimacies after children came along. Sure, there are a few laughs to be found if you're on the outside looking in, but you'll appreciate Tina Fey and Steve Carell's reaction shots a lot more if you know exactly what their characters are thinking and feeling . . . and why.
But "Date Night" also strikes me as being very similar in spirit and structure to "The Out-of-Towners." I don't mean the stinko 1999 remake starring Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn. I'm talking about the original 1970 Neil Simon film starring Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis, who really embodied small-town America as a paranoid couple visiting New York, and whose trip turns out to be their worst nightmare. "Date Night" is an edgier version of a couple that's out of their element and who also find that their situation quickly goes from bad to worse. And worse still, like a dirty snowball picking up speed (and more grit and grime) as it rolls down the hill.
The setting is once again New York City, with Phil and Claire Foster (Carell and Fey) playing a New Jersey couple who have fallen into routines so predictable that they decide to do something to break out of their rut--like go to Manhattan for dinner on date night instead of their usual local restaurant.
Shawn Levy ("Night at the Museum," "The Pink Panther") does a nice job of moving this action-comedy along, though I'll have to agree with others who've said that, as with Carell's "Get Smart," this script from Josh Klausner ("Shrek the Third") offers more action than laughs. With two other actors it might have been just fine, but when you have two stars who are known for being funny, people expect a laugh a minute . . . and it's only there if you can appreciate the stars' subtle reaction shots.
The plot starts in motion when, denied a table at the restaurant they've chosen, Phil suddenly gets inspired to take someone else's reservation--a couple named the Tripplehorns. They're not ten bites into their meal before they regret it, as two mob heavies, thinking they're the real Tripplehorns, take them out into the alley. I won't spoil the unlikely chain of events by going into details, except to say that their date-night adventure includes a run-in with a mob boss (Ray Liotta), an outrageous pole-dancing scene at a strip club, an encounter with a buff security expert (Mark Wahlberg), and, eventually, the real Tripplehorns (James Franco, Mila Kunis).
The falling-dominoes plot is pretty standard issue, and there's far less humor written into the script than Carell and Fey ultimately provide. That's a testament to their talent, of course, and fans of "30 Rock" and Fey's Liz Lemon won't be any more disappointed by her performance than fans of "The Office" and Carell's Michael Scott will be by his. The two stars and quirky supporting cast, along with Levy's snappy direction, make this film work. Did my wife and I laugh out loud as much as we thought we would? Probably not. But watching Carell and Fey wring laughs out of a sometimes limp scene, time and time again, we ended up with a pretty good "date night" ourselves.
"Date Night" comes to Blu-ray via an AVC/MPEG-4 transfer (23 MBPS)to a 50GB disc, but while I didn't notice any artifacts and black levels and color saturation seemed sufficient, was a little more visual inconsistency than I would have expected from a recent release. Some of the scenes with close-ups of bright colors--like a blue shirt--produced a slight but noticeable surface of noise, while other scenes seemed a little soft, as with low-lit or hazy shots. Overall, though, it's a decent picture . . . just not one you'll pop in to show off your Blu-ray player. "Date Night" is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen.
The featured audio--an English DTS-HD MA 5.1--is also pretty decent overall, but nothing to knock your socks off. The action sequences seem more loud than dynamic, and there's just enough rear action to give the barest sense of ambient sound. Mostly this is a dialogue-driven film that blares a bit more when the bullets start to fly or the tires start to squeal. Additional audio options are in French or Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English SDH, Spanish, and French.
At first glance there looks to be a boatload of bonus features, but once you get past the choice of watching the theatrical or extended version in High Def and using the Digital Copy to upload the film onto a personal electronic device, what's left is a pretty standard albeit exuberant audio commentary by director Levy (on the theatrical version only), a 20-minute tag-along feature where we see what Levy's filming day is like, four extended scenes that really don't add much, and seven additional bonus features that are all under six minutes each: An alternate take reel, a round-up of the actors talking about their worst dates, Fey/Carell wardrobe and lighting tests, a gag reel, three PSAs for a date night, and another brief one in which we see Levy at work. Rounding out the bonus features are sneak peeks and a "How to" feature for those who might not know how to upload the Digital Copy.
Leave the kids at home for this "Date Night," which, though rated PG-13, has some material that seems unsuited for any teens . . . unless you're raising budding strippers. And if you don't go into this thinking you're going to be laughing constantly, "Date Night" is a funny film and a fun time.