In Date Night, Steve Carell and Tina Fey play a fundamentally solid married couple who have been together long enough to take each other for granted. Having traded the electricity of new infatuation for the security of sleepy middle-class suburban parenthood, this complacent pair looks for a shock to the system to revive their relationship’s dormant romance. And that’s just what they get once they venture into the city for a night of danger, violence, and slapstick shenanigans in Shawn Levy’s thoroughly okay action-comedy.
The suburban New Jersey couple begin their travails when Carell impulsively decides to impersonate a mystery pair known as “the Tripplehorns” in order to steal their reservations at a hip, discriminating Manhattan eatery. But he’s unaware that the real Tripplehorns are low-life hustlers (James Franco and Mila Kunis) wanted by unsavory sorts on both sides of the law. Soon, Carell and Fey are running for their life from corrupt cops (Common and Jimmi Simpson) and seeking regular help from a scene-stealing Mark Wahlberg, who—playing a James Bond-like acquaintance of Fey’s whose glamorous existence and impressive pectoral muscles make Carell look milquetoast by comparison—mounts a serious challenge to Matthew McConaughey’s reign as the King Of Cinematic Shirtlessness.
Though it often defaults to flailing slapstick wedded to rote action, Date Night occasionally stumbles onto moments of emotional honesty when the subterranean currents of resentment and boredom in Fey and Carell’s marriage puncture the surface. In one of the film’s sharpest gags, Franco and Kunis’ flat-lining relationship woes serve as a funhouse-mirror reflection of Fey and Carell’s own issues, except in the younger couple’s case, they involve handjobs in champagne rooms instead of driving kids to soccer practice. Yet whenever the film threatens to develop real comic momentum or pathos, it grinds to a halt for arbitrary thriller mechanics that recall the glut of gratuitous diamond-smuggling comedy subplots of the 1980s. There’s something genuine and more than a little sad at the core of Levy’s poorly staged, modestly amusing comedy, but it isn’t the part that involves flash drives, blackmail, and glowering, gun-toting bad guys.