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Date Night

(2010) ** 1/2 Pg-13
88 min. 20th Century Fox. Director: Shawn Levy. Cast: Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg, Taraji Henson, Jimmi Simpson.

/content/films/3735/1.jpgCanned crises plague long-time marrieds in Date Night, the much-hyped teaming of comedy stars Steve Carell and Tina Fey as “a boring married couple from New Jersey”: Phil and Claire Foster. With their best friends divorcing, Phil and Claire’s rut suddenly seems urgently dire: have they become “just really excellent roommates”? Instead of another dinner at the local steak house, followed by a polite sexual dodge, the Fosters put on their best and head into New York City for a hopefully aphrodisiacal dinner at a trendy hotspot.

Things get cra-zay when the Fosters are mistaken for a couple of crooks who have ticked off the District Attorney (William Fichtner), the dirty cops on his payroll (Common and Jimmi Simpson), and a local mobster (Ray Liotta). Channeling the Neil Simon of The Out of Towners—and who wants that Neil Simon?—screenwriter Josh Klausner (Shrek the Third) applies Murphy’s Law to the Fosters’ night on the town.

Phil and Claire reason that their kids will remain in danger unless they settle the situation once and for all, by locating and handing off a flash drive containing sensitive information. Though their thinking defies logic, wackiness ensues, which is the point, after all. Sure, there’s some pat drama about how Claire is overworked and Phil wants to be trusted with more marital responsibility, but director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum) would rather cut to the (car) chase.

This is the deal of Date Night: you trade realism for action comedy. Much as I would prefer to see the subtler Carell of Dan in Real Life comically negotiate a struggling marriage to Fey, we’re in a land of gunfire and super-computers. Fey more reliably keeps the proceedings grounded, credibly dropping laugh bombs like “We gotta do more cardio” into the middle of the action.

Mark Wahlberg shows up for a self-parodic turn as a conspicuously fit security expert who refuses to wear a shirt, but the movie’s funniest scene belongs to James Franco and Mila Kunis as a loving but lowlife married couple who are foils for the Fosters. It’s surprisingly difficult to buy into Carell and Fey as a genuine married couple, and the two sometimes seem to be acting at or near each other rather than with each other. Still, they’re funny folk, and the sight of them doing a “sex robots” dance won’t soon be forgotten.

Date Night bears no resemblance to reality, and thus offers no useful advice for spicing up a marriage (ticking off criminals: don’t try this at home). But by turning New York City into an adventure theme park for two likable comedy stars, the flick provides a passable hour and a half of amusement.

[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 8/10/2010

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

In its home-video debut, Date Night goes out on the town with a Blu-ray + Digital Copy special edition that presents both the Theatrical Version and a newly available Extended Version, the latter running about thirteen minutes longer than the theatrical cut. The hi-def transfers are typically excellent for a newly minted Fox title, though the HD-cam source doesn't always provide the bottomless black level one might hope for; as a consequence, the many nighttime sequences don't achieve a fully dimensional razor-sharpness. Otherwise, the image is impeccable, with generally strong detail and particularly well-saturated color. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is top of the line, roaring to life in the action sequences and otherwise providing punchy music and crisp dialogue.

First among the bonuses is an audio commentary by director Shawn Levy (Theatrical Version Only). Levy keeps a steady stream of directorial know-how flowing; he clearly takes pride in his cast and the work, and he gives the project's background and explains its production challenges, especially on location.

Next up are four "Deleted Scenes" (5:47, SD), four "Extended Scenes" (10:25, SD) and "Alt City" (1:49, SD), the latter serving up a bit of "line-o-rama."

"Directing 301" (21:48, SD) is a "film school on a disc" type of featurette, with director-producer Shawn Levy giving us a guided tour of a night in the life of a location shoot. Also coming before the camera are 1st A.D./executive producer Josh McLaglen, director of photography Dean Semler, camera operator Andrew Rowlands, stunt coordinator/2nd unit director Jack Gill, script supervisor Diane Durant, transportation captain Tom McGoldrick, editor Dean Zimmerman, director's assistant Regina Taufen, and production assistant Alex Betuel; we also get glimpses of actors Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Common, and Jimmi Simpson at work and play.

"Disaster Dates" (4:43, SD) surveys the cast for their dating horror stories; participants include Carell, Fey, Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, James Franco, Kristen Wiig, Leighton Meester, Olivia Munn, Taraji P. Henson, Bill Burr, Will.I.Am, Common, and Simpson.

"Directing Off Camera" (3:46, SD) focuses on Levy's off-camera instructions to the actors, using as an example Carell and Fey's strip-club dance, while "Steve and Tina Camera Tests" (3:10, SD) shows the stars in costume for a photo shoot.

Rounding out the disc are a "Gag Reel" (5:49), three very funny "PSAs" (2:02), the "Theatrical Trailer" (2:25, HD) and a "Sneak Peek" (9:55) suite that includes promos for Predators, Our Family Wedding, My Name is Khan, Best of FX, and Knight and Day.

Of course, the disc is BD-Live enabled for more magic from those ever-so-popular world-wide internets: Live Lookup with movie stats powered by IMDB, and a three-and-a-half-minute exclusive interview with Carell and Fey.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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