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Like many married couples, the Fosters of 'Date Night' find themselves stuck in a routine. They practically sleepwalk through their daily activities and end their monotony sitting around on the couch, barely greeting one another as they come home. Even "date night," the one time of the week where they can afford to spend time alone, has transformed into a chore of getting dressed, eating at the same restaurant, and talking about the food while making fun of others. One night, they notice another couple lustily making out and assume they must be single. Then the Fosters notice wedding bands around the pair's fingers. It's not until later, when friends break the news of a divorce that the Fosters consider they too might be "strangling in the noose of sameness."
Thus the foundation is laid for the latest Shawn Levy flick, which finally unites two very popular commodities in the world of comedy today, Steve Carell and Tina Fey. Who better to elevate the dull lives of Phil and Claire Foster to vivid and hysterical caricatures? Both stars extend the same sense of verisimilitude they normally impart to their TV personalities and give life to a couple that could easily fall flat. They play off of each other with such impeccable comedic timing that's it's almost a shame the movie has to come to an end.
'Date Night' uses a plot structure similar to Scorsese's 'After Hours,' but combines it with the charm of a screwball romantic comedy and the draw of the buddy action film. It's easy, then, to figure out the target audience, since much of what's on display can be shared by other couples in need of some free time away from the kids. Through the course of the narrative, in which the Fosters venture into New York City for a more exciting date and are quickly mistaken for another couple with a much more dangerous lifestyle, we learn more about the Fosters and the complacent nature of their marriage. And through this little excursion of danger and madcap misadventure, they also confront and sort out their marital issues while dodging bullets. The story about a marriage on auto-pilot suddenly turning into a comedy of errors is a boisterous ride of laughs and excitement which succeeds at offering an entertaining diversion.
The funny romp through the streets of Manhattan also includes a long list of talent which adds to the film's humor. Mark Ruffalo and Kristen Wiig are the divorcing best friends who inspire Phil and Claire to reignite their romance. Later, James Franco and Mila Kunis remind the Fosters their marriage is much healthier and normal than they initially believed. Mark Wahlberg's Holbrooke reveals how little the couple communicates about their individual careers. Searching for a mysterious flash drive, Common and Jimmi Simpson allow for Phil to prove he can handle things on his own by outsmarting the two goons. Joining the rest of the cast is Ray Liotta as mob boss Joe Miletto, William Fichtner as the district attorney, Taraji P. Henson as the detective, and Daily Show compatriots Jason Jones and Samantha Bee.
But, as so many romcoms seem predisposed to do, 'Date Night' falters towards the end, falling prey to predictability and stale happy conclusions. There are no surprises here, aside from the comedic exchanges. Then again, some jokes tend to come off a bit forced and hackneyed. In the end, as long as viewers can ignore these few drawbacks, and thanks mostly to the film's two very affable stars, 'Date Night' offers a fun and entertaining romantic comedy for couples. This is one movie night both can enjoy. Together, without kid interruption.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment brings Shawn Levy's 'Date Night' to Blu-ray as a two-disc set, housed in a blue keepcase that holds each disc on opposing panels. While the second disc is a digital copy of the movie in standard definition, the first is a BD50, Region A locked disc with all the special features. The package also comes with a 3-D hologram glued to the front of a cardboard slipcover.
When placing into your Blu-ray player, the disc has an unusually long startup wait, likely due to it connecting to the internet via BD-Live. The moment the connection is successful, viewers are greeted with a series of previews not found on the disc, which are for 'Unstoppable,' 'Hot Tub Time Machine,' 'Just Wright,' 'Modern Family,' and two promos for digital copy use and Fox Television. Thankfully, this only happens once since popping in the disc a second time results in asking owners if they wish to resume playback. While full-motion clips play in the background, the standard set of options is offered. And finally, fans can enjoy the original 88-minute theatrical presentation of 'Date Night' or the extended 102-minute version, which really only offers some added dialogue.
'Date Night' debuts on Blu-ray with a rather disappointing picture quality. To be sure, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.35:1) has its moments, but overall, the freshly-minted transfer doesn't look anything like what we'd expect from a new release. This is a bit of surprise considering this is sourced directly from HD elements, using the Panavision Genesis, and even more of a shock seeing as how award-winning cinematographer Dean Semler ('Dances With Wolves,' 'Apocalypto,' 'Road Warrior') is the man behind the photography.
Contrast is as it should be, offering wonderful visibility of background info and giving the movie an attractive cinematic feel, but there are a few times when whites suddenly bloom or the whole picture looks oddly hazy. Black levels are fairly average and frequently fall on the weaker end, which is unfortunate since ninety-percent of the comedy is shot at night. Arguably, we've seen worse, but for such a recent movie, there is little to no dynamic range in contrast and brightness, making the image appear flat for almost the entire presentation. Delineation suffers greatly due to this, creating terribly murky, grimy shadows in several key sequences. There's a bit of digital noise here and there, and I also detected some very minor ringing. Neither is overtly distracting, but they can be noticeable to discerning eyes.
Keeping in mind that the film was shot in HD, it's amazing to see that definition and detailing is as feeble as it is. Clarity is not an issue, and resolution is consistent for the most part. But it's interesting to see one moment where we can clearly make out the lines and individual bricks of Holbrooke's home, and the next, the video is significantly softer and not as sharply resolved. The encode's saving grace comes by way of an accurately rendered and brightly saturated color palette, and skin tones look warm and healthy. In the end, 'Date Night' might have been primped and spiffed up for a date with Blu-ray, but ultimately, the picture quality doesn't seem ready for a night on the town with the format.
Unlike the video, the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack delivers more than normally required for a typical romcom feature. It may not be the sort of enthralling sonic experience to push one's sound system, but it's highly entertaining and just enough to possibly disturb the neighbors.
Although the front channels carry most of the presentation with excellently rendered and precise vocals, the design really comes alive with the sudden bursts of action. Imaging is richly expansive and engaging as bullets pierce the listening area and the sounds of the city lightly bleed into the background. An attractively dynamic mid-range maintains great clarity detail and a full-bodied soundstage when two cars play a screeching game of tug-o-war or a police helicopter unexpectedly appears on the screen. Low-frequency effects are nicely responsive and add an intense emphasis to those sequences requiring it. While the rears could have been put to greater effect by being a bit more active, this lossless mix for 'Date Night' is a very good addition to a funny movie and a fun night of entertainment.
As if two versions of the film, available on both formats, weren't enough, Fox Home Entertainment also throws in a fairly lengthy and entertaining assortment of bonuses.
Shawn Levy's 'Date Night' is a very entertaining and funny screwball romantic comedy. The success of this madcap adventure about a marriage in auto-pilot suddenly turning into a dangerous game of mistaken identity is largely due to the union of its two comedic stars, Steve Carell and Tina Fey. And the film is terrifically supported by an amusing cast of cameos, making this a great date movie that couples can enjoy together. The Blu-ray package comes with mildly impressive video, excellent audio, and a strong collection of supplemental material. The safest bet is a quiet dinner and a movie rental. But if you want to skip the food altogether, no harm is done with a Blu-ray purchase.