Given the track record of director Shawn Levy, I approached Date Night (opening Friday 4/9/10) with a certain amount of dread -- OK, a lot of dread, to be honest.
Not only was I less than eager to see the latest film from a director I've come to think of as the anti-Christ of comedy (Levy is to comedy as Michael Bay is to action). But I was also worried about how badly he would misuse two of my favorite performers: Steve Carell and Tina Fey.
So let me say straight off that Date Night isn't terrible -- and I mean that as the mildest of praise. In that sense, it reminded me of The Proposal, another formula comedy that rose to the "not terrible" status of being better than expected, if not outstanding or noteworthy in any other way.
Otherwise, Date Night reminded me of several other films as well, such as Adventures in Babysitting, After Hours and Into the Night -- movies with a Hitchcockian edge in which mistaken identity (or another plot device) launches some normal person into a non-stop, all-night adventure.
In this case, Josh Klausner's script takes two normal people and subjects them to a long night of abnormal encounters, in which they are transformed from mild-mannered New Jersey suburbanites into resourceful heroes figuring out how to outwit the bad guys on their trail.
In this case, it's Phil and Claire Foster, played by Carell and Fey. Klausner's script gets things exactly right in the early going, particularly the way the exhaustion of parenting their energetic tots bleeds into the marital relationship. Indeed, the first date night we see -- the one where the Fosters go to their local steakhouse for their regular meal with the waiter who knows them by name -- is nearly perfect, right down to the way they negotiate their way out of bedtime sex in a way that makes it seem that each wants it but is backing off out of consideration for the other.
It's their second date night that goes horribly wrong.