It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Steve Carell and Tina Fey play a nice, unassuming couple in "Date Night," and that's one of the reasons the movie works so well. Their Phil and Claire Foster are a normal, overworked, sincere, good-natured New Jersey couple whose lives have become routine. But they love one another, and all they really want is to hire a babysitter and enjoy a nice night out on the town.
We believe that. We're halfway prepared for a low-key romantic comedy when all hell breaks lose. They pretend to be an absent couple in order to grab a reservation at a trendy restaurant, and two hit men assume they are that couple and topple them into a screwball comedy. Yet all the time Phil and Claire seem like the kind of people who don't belong in a screwball comedy. That's why it's funny. They're bewildered.
"Date Night" supplies them with the "real" Tripplehorns (James Franco and Mila Kunis), two mob-employed cops (Jimmi Simpson and Common), a mob boss (Ray Liotta) and a muscular security expert (Mark Wahlberg) who never wears a shirt. These characters are also somewhat believable. Plots like this have a way of spinning over the top with insane manic behavior. It's as if the characters are desperately signaling, Look at us! Aren't we hilarious? But the audience has to bring hilarity to you. It can't be assumed.
So what we have is a situation set in motion because a couple named the Tripplehorns don't turn up for a restaurant reservation. The Fosters, mistaken for the Tripplehorns, find themselves in way over their heads with the Tripplehorns' potentially fatal problems. The criminal characters aren't simply stupid, but bright enough to perceive this causes a problem for everyone. And the security agent (Wahlberg) is not simply a muscle-bound goon. He's a caricature, all right, but one living in a condo out of Architectural Digest and capable of feeling some sympathy for these pathetic New Jerseyites who've lost their way.