“Date Night” and “ The Out-of-Towners” Pit Comedians vs. New York


Published: April 15, 2010

“Date Night” (2010)

If there is one reason to watch this movie from start to finish, it is to watch the blooper reel during the end credits. Steve Carell and Tina Fey adlibbing and flubbing some of the script’s sillier lines (watching the movie beforehand lets you know which outtakes fall under either category) is funnier and much more spontaneous than almost everything else they do here. As the Fosters, a married couple who unwittingly start a dangerous mistaken identity case by stealing a dinner reservation, they walk through the proceedings finding any possible way to enliven this occasionally boring feature. Following their lackluster performances in “Get Smart” and “The Invention of Lying,” these two comedians continue to show that they operate best when performing their own material.

It can at least be said that Josh Klausner’s script could have been much worse. The writing is not as crude as that of recent comedies like “Cop Out,” and the situation does not prompt the everyday Fosters into becoming athletes overnight like in other action comedies. (If you see the trailer for the upcoming Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz movie, “Knight and Day,” you’ll see how ridiculous that trope can get.) Some running gags work, like the Fosters’ assessments of other couples and the disgust people express when they hear the about the stolen reservation. The film’s second third, involving an unusual car chase and a very funny James Franco, is clearly the best.

The other two thirds, however, are much less memorable, containing routines that range from ordinary (the book club scene is nothing new despite the book’s hilariously pretentious title) to sexual just for the sake of it (the very unfunny strip club climax). Considering some of the risqué jokes in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “30 Rock,” I cannot say the story would have taken a different turn if Carell and Fey wrote the script themselves. Even so, they no doubt would have found a more inspired way to present the scenario than what Klausner and director Shawn Levy have provided.

If you like “Date Night,” then try…

“The Out-of-Towners” (1970)

This comedy, written by Neil Simon and directed by Arthur Hiller, also involves a married couple’s disastrous experience in New York City. The difference here is that this movie uses more reasonable catastrophes as fodder. Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis play a couple trying to reach New York for the husband’s promotion interview, and everything that can go wrong in transit goes spectacularly wrong.

This movie’s somewhat uncomfortable humor arises not out of how outlandish it is, but out of how plausible it is. Though the proceedings naturally become more bizarre as the film nears the end, occurrences like lost luggage, delayed flights and touchy cab drivers are all too familiar. The writing and acting (the funny supporting cast includes Ron Carey and Billy Dee Williams) heighten the absurdity of these situations enough that they become more amusing than aggravating.

The ambivalence towards the couple is often funnier than Lemmon and Dennis’s exasperation since the two leads can be hard to like. Dennis is annoying as the wife trying to stay relatively level, and despite Lemmon’s fine performance, the husband is unmistakably a jerk. Lemmon does have a plum role, playing a man so irritable that he responded to every hardship by threatening to sue (Lemmon’s control of volume and speech keeps the routine from becoming stale), but there is only so much of this man’s grouchiness that one can take.

In addition to the unsympathetic leads, the sheer number of misfortunes makes the overall film tiresome. Still, “The Out-of-Towners” has enough funny moments to make it watchable. If nothing else, it works as a reminder that your life is not as bad as it could be.