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The action-comedy “Date Night” rolls the credits after a taught 88 minutes. The running time – short by movie standards, long by sit-com conventions – seems to be a tacit acknowledgment that even the film’s two talented stars, Tina Fey and Steve Carell, can only hold together a silly plot for so long before it sinks like a taxi
in the East River.
Mr. Carell and Ms. Fey play Phil and Claire Foster, a married couple with two kids who have settled into the drab routine of their suburban New Jersey lives. Their standing Friday date night involves going to the same steakhouse and ordering the same salmon and potato skins.
Their sex life competes with Breathe Right strips and mouth guards and usually loses.
When friends (Mark Ruffalo and Kristen Wiig) announce that they are splitting up because their relationship has been reduced to being “excellent roommates,” the Fosters decide they need to spice it up.
For their next date, the uncool couple ventures into Manhattan to dine at a trendy restaurant with a one-syllable name and $50 soup. The hot-spot has been booked for months, of course, and the couple lands a table by pretending to be the Tripplehorns, party of two. Bad move.
As Hollywood fate would have it, the real Tripplehorns – or at least the Jean Tripplehorn fans who made the reservation under the semi-obscure actress’s name – are in hot water with a mobster (an unused Ray Liotta) for stealing a flash drive filled with sensitive information. Chaos, a lengthy car chase and crazy high jinks soon follow.
The supporting cast, which consists of mostly cameo appearances, helps propel the obvious theme that it is okay to be a boring married couple from the ‘burbs. A shirtless Mark Wahlberg has some self-mocking fun as a suave international spy who helps the Fosters along the way. James Franco and Mila Kunis (“That 70s Show”) play a kinky pair of petty criminals who stole the flash drive and missed their dinner reservation. And William Fichtner – the veteran character actor whose face is much more famous than his name – has a humorous turn as a corrupt district attorney with some odd fetishes.
But the rather amateurish script is mostly buoyed by the excellent chemistry between Mr. Carell and Ms. Fey. Toward the end, however, their heaping irreverence seems to signal a certain boredom with the bland material. Indeed, the couple ends up onstage at a gentlemen’s club called the Peppermint Hippo (a lame wink-wink to the real-life Spearmint Rhino clubs), where they perform a decidedly unsexy, and unfunny, robot strip tease.
“Date Night” never pretends to be anything other than an absurd romp. Not surprisingly, Mr. Carell and Ms. Fey are the reasons for the film’s mild success. The couple’s outtakes that run alongside the rolling list of grips, gaffers and caterers are evidence that without their considerable improv chops, “Date Night” would have been as fun as eating a stuffed potato skin in a suburban New Jersey restaurant.
1hr 28min. Rated PG-13
for language and adult humor.