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DATE NIGHT (2010) (***1/2)

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Marriage and life sometimes seem to get in the way of each other. You meet the right woman, fall in love, get hitched, have kids and end up wondering how you got stuck in some routine. The routine tests marriages. The one's that last are often the ones that can take a moment to break free from the routine and remember what sparked it all in the beginning. For the Fosters, blackmailers, gangsters, corrupt cops and a deviant DA really do put a spark in their relationship.

Phil and Claire Foster (Steve Carell, THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN & Tina Fey, TV's 30 ROCK) are in that kind of rut. Their best friends the Sullivans (Kristen Wiig, TV's SNL & Mark Ruffalo, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT) are getting a divorce, because they got in a rut. This scares Phil, because he loves Claire, but he can see their light fizzling out. He tries to make their date night special by taking her to a trendy new restaurant in NYC on Friday night without a reservation. No luck getting a table. So Phil acts spontaneously and takes the reservation of the Tripplehorns, who don't seem to be there. Not a great call.

Corrupt cops Armstrong (Jimmi Simpson, THE INVENTION OF LYING) and Collins (Common, AMERICAN GANGSTER) come looking for the real Tripplehorns, who are scam artists named Taste (James Franco, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS) and Whippit (Mila Kunis, FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL). But who's working for whom — gangster John Miletto (Ray Liotta, GOODFELLAS) or DA Frank Crenshaw (William Fichtner, GO)? Who can help them — detective Arroyo (Taraji P. Henson, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON) or sexy security specialist Grant Holbrooke (Mark Wahlberg, THE DEPARTED)?

The Fosters are not prepared for this kind of stuff. Claire thinks they're going to get whacked off. What makes the film so good is that it remains that way. The Fosters do their best to stay alive. They have their smarts and they get so help from people with experience. They don't turn into James Bond and Pussy Galore.

The film sets their relationship up so well before the wackiness ensues. We know them and like them, so we want them to live and stay together. The craziness puts an additional strain on their marriage and reveals their problems, but also the things that make them love each other.

I particularly liked Carell's character. In comedies like these, the man is so often going through some mid-life crisis and has to remember why his family is special to him. Phil knows why his wife is special and he's trying to show her. He's the kind of guy who does things he might not want to do just to make his wife happy without a touch of irritation about doing it. To make her happy makes him happy. Claire is a control freak and overworked between her job and family duties. This stress washes over onto Phil and she misses the little things.

And of course, the pairing of Carell and Fey is comedy perfection. The Fosters don't know they're in a comedy and that makes it all the more hilarious.

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Rick DeMott
Animation World Network
Creator of Rick's Flicks Picks