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Energetic performances give 'Date Night' a boost

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Posted: Saturday, April 17, 2010 12:00 am

We've seen some pretty decent movies lately (this week's pick is no exception), but frankly, I've just been biding my time, waiting for "Kick-Ass" to redefine reality as I know it.

Expect a giddy review next week, followed by "Paper Man" (a potentially fascinating film starring Jeff Daniels as a troubled man with an imaginary superhero friend played by Ryan Reynolds — just crazy enough to work, if you ask me) if it opens wide, or "The Losers" if it doesn't.

Then we've got the "Nightmare on Elm Street" remake to look forward to before "Iron Man 2" opens on May 7 to kick off what looks to be a pretty rockin' summer movie season. In the meantime…

"Date Night"

*** 1/2 (out of four)
2010, Shawn Levy, U.S., PG-13

If "Date Night" had been made with anyone else but Steve Carell and Tina Fey in the leading roles, there's no way it would have worked.

That's not so much a knock against the film — which is competently made and occasionally sharply written, if a little too broad and unfocused in its comedic efforts — as it is a testament to the comic stylings of Carell and Fey, who bring to the movie an old-school madcap sensibility that is it easy to imitate (see: virtually every other "zany" romantic comedy released in the past decade or so) but extraordinarily difficult to actually sell.

Had, say, Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson appeared in the film instead, then it may well have been a marginally entertaining, sporadically clever screwball throwback.

But thanks to the unique energy and incredible chemistry between Carell and Fey, "Date Night" is nothing less than a delight.

Phil and Claire Foster (Carell and Fey, respectively) are your typical married couple, with stressful jobs, a house full of wild kids and a general case of suburban malaise.

Their weekly date night at a local neighborhood grill never provides much of a break, so one night they decide to go into the city for dinner at a fancy restaurant.

After stealing another couple's reservations, they are mistaken for the Tripplehorns, who appear to have become involved in a dangerous blackmail scheme involving a stolen flash drive.

The whole thing snowballs from there, and the Fosters must spend the night dodging a pair of murderous thugs in an desperate effort to recover the flash drive and return to their prior "boring" life.

Carell and Fey easily make "Date Night" worth the price of a ticket for two, but what really puts it over the top is the roster of supporting players who show up in priceless cameos.

Everyone — including James Franco as "Mr. Tripplehorn"; Mark Walhberg as a private security expert with eyes for Claire; Ray Liotta as a gruff crime boss; William Fichtner as a kinky D.A.; and Mark Ruffalo and Kristin Wiig as the Fosters' unhappily married friends — is close to perfect in their small roles, and each is instrumental in making "Date Night" perhaps the unlikeliest comedic success so far this year.

Commentary

The release of "Kick-Ass" marks the latest high-profile performance by Mark Strong, formerly a little-known character actor who in the past couple years has burst onto the scene with major roles in several big-budget productions.

He has gotten my attention, to say the least, and I hope these kinds of roles will continue to garner him some of the attention he so richly deserves.

Regrettably, I have not seen enough Mark Strong movies to in good conscience attempt a career retrospective, but what I have seen leads me to the conclusion that he exercises perhaps the best professional judgment out of any newly emerging actor in Hollywood.

I first saw him in the 2002 British mini-series "The Jury," but it wasn't until 2008's "Body of Lies" — in which he just up and stole an entire movie from both Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe — that I really took notice and started to follow his career with interest.

He made good on the exposure brought by both "Body of Lies" and the fantasy romance "Stardust," and has now made the very wise decision to attach himself professionally to some of our most consistently impressive directors, including Ridley Scott ("Body of Lies" and the upcoming "Robin Hood," in which Strong will play Sir Godfrey), Guy Ritchie ("Rock 'n' Rolla" and "Sherlock Holmes," which Strong, as the villain, nearly saved from complete irrelevance) and Matthew Vaughn ("Stardust" and "Kick-Ass").

In the near future, we'll see his work with talented auteurs like Kevin Macdonald (the Roman period piece "The Eagle of the Ninth" will follow his "Touching the Void," "The Last King of Scotland" and "State of Play" — making him a director to watch) and Peter Weir (whose upcoming "The Way Back" will feature Strong in the story of an escape from a Siberian gulag), not to mention his starring role as the villain Sinestro in next year's "The Green Lantern."

He's the thinking man's action star, and in a world that accepts a non-emotive hunk of meat like Sam Worthington as a viable marquee name, he's exactly what we need.

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jasonwallis@comcast.net.

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