DATE NIGHT, directed by Shawn Levy, written by Josh Klausner, 88 minutes, rated PG-13.
The new Shawn Levy movie, “Date Night,” stars Tina Fey and Steve Carell as a couple sandbagged by the life they created for themselves. They’re married. They have demanding children. They have exhausting jobs. And guess what? They’re exhausted because of it.
They also have a weekly date night, which is meant to steal them away from this tedium, if only for a few hours, so they can reconnect. And yet even their date nights are rimmed with tin. Same restaurant. Same food. Same wine. Nothing special.
In part, this element of Josh Klausner’s script is what makes “Date Night” so special. At the core of this raucous comedy is a serious undercurrent of something many married couples and longtime partners are facing today — the threat of the routine and the daily grind, the pressures of paying the bills, and the loss of romance that can go along with them.
When two of their friends (Mark Ruffalo, Kristen Wiig) announce that they’re getting a divorce, Phil (Carell) and Claire (Fey) question their own relationship — are they lovers or just really good roommates? And if they are the latter, why are they settling? Should they scrap their marriage and move on? Or should they try to fix it?
Claire tries to fix it. On date night, she puts on the glam — sexy dress, great hair and makeup, no glasses, a bounce in her step. Phil looks at her with new eyes, and he’s smart enough to understand what she’s up to — she’s trying to save their relationship. Since he wants to do the same, he also steps up to the plate. He decides they’ll leave New Jersey for a night on the town in New York City. He’ll take her to the trendy new restaurant she has been coveting, in spite of the fact that they don’t have reservations. At first, this proves a problem. But when a couple called the Tripplehorns don’t claim their table when it’s called, Phil goes for it and states that they’re the Tripplehorns.
They get the table. The food is great. Their old spark is back. And then two men interrupt them looking for the Tripplehorns. Thinking that they are being called out for stealing the table, Claire and Phil agree to leave with the men and soon are met with guns in their faces in a back alley.
Apparently, the Tripplehorns stole a flash drive containing incriminating photos, which could bring down a powerful man, and that man wants the drive back. It’s a classic case of mistaken identity, with Phil and Claire soon running for their lives through the streets of New York for the rest of the night.
The chemistry between Carell and Fey is pure fire — they feed off each other and thus feed audiences several big laughs in the process. Echoes of “The Out of Towners” abound. A shirtless and beautifully deadpan Mark Wahlberg, as one of Claire’s former, smoldering real estate clients, adds to the lunacy. There also are other fun supporting turns from James Franco and Mila Kunis as the real thieves — Taste and Whippit.
Everything that happens here is a stretch, but none of that matters because the movie’s point is to make you laugh, which it does. “Date Night” isn’t the funniest comedy ever, but it is solid — and it will own a piece of the comedic real estate in 2010.
On DVD and Blu-ray disc
CRAZY HEART, written and directed by Scott Cooper, 101 minutes, rated R.
Scott Cooper’s “Crazy Heart” offers audiences nothing new — we’ve been here before, most recently in the film that revived Mickey Rourke’s career, “The Wrestler.” But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see the movie.
In fact, you absolutely should see it, particularly since its star, Jeff Bridges, deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his authentic performance as the talented, down-on-his-luck country singer, Bad Blake. This might, in fact, be the best performance of Bridges’ career. What Cooper creates with him is something troubling, humbling and sad, but most of all, it’s memorable, powerful and it resonates.
While there are issues with the story itself — it’s a bit rushed, particularly at the end, in which it’s suggested that the struggle for sobriety isn’t much of a struggle at all — there are zero issues with what Bridges brings to the screen. As Blake, he is nothing short of the real thing, an aging country singer in his 50s who no longer sings his hit songs to the masses. Instead, he now headlines bowling alleys and saloons, skirting from one gig to the next in an old truck that, mirroring Blake himself, is just about out of gas.
It’s in New Mexico that he meets Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a journalist whose career could benefit from an interview with Blake. He gives her one, a few drinks pass hands, and before you know it, they’re in a relationship. But what to do with Jean’s young son, who Blake adores, likely because he abandoned his own son (now an adult) around the same age? As a bond grows between them all, the movie manufactures a few moments of cliche melodrama, but rising above it is Bridges, who is so loose onscreen, it’s difficult to imagine that he knew a camera was on him at all.
That’s the genius of his performance. He’s so lost in the role, the lines blur between character and actor to the point where audiences are left with admiration for Bridges’ work (he sings every song here — and well), and with pity for Blake, who knows he needs to pull himself together. Otherwise, his romance with Jean is shot.
Rounding out the cast is a very good Colin Farrell as the successful country singer Tommy Sweet, who learned the ropes from Blake, and Robert Duvall as a bar owner and one of Blake’s best friends. Those who remember 1983’s “Tender Mercies,” in which Duvall won the Academy Award, will note the parallels between the two films — and welcome them.
WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Mondays, Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.