views

Carell and Fey hit the funny bone

Film
DATE NIGHT
Cert: 15

Tina Fey and Steve Carell are such comic dynamite that their pairing up for Date Night promised explosions of mirth, especially when directed by Shawn Levy, of Night At the Museum fame. Saturday Night Live afficianados (where Fey and Carell made their names) – and those who regard Carell’s work in Anchorman to be the pinnacle of comedy – may have seen better, but for the viewer in the market for an amusing hour and a half, it’s a tight, action-packed and frequently hilarious movie.

New Jersey lawyer Phil Foster (Carell) vows to liven up the mechanical weekly date nights he shares with harried real estate agent wife Claire (Fey), and decides to take her out for dinner in Manhattan. They attempt a table at Claw, the city’s hottest restaurant, but, without reservations, it doesn’t look a likely bet. Suddenly, they seize the opportunity to nab a no-show couple’s reservation. And so for date night, they are the Tripplehorns.

Midway through the wine and risotto, a couple of toughs turn up and begin a violent interrogation of the Tripplehorns – who have stolen some important information from a dangerous man. Suddenly, Claire and Phil are in way over their heads and their date night turns into a race to get away from the bad guys, save themselves – and indeed – their marriage. Their teamwork is excellent (and excellently funny), as they partake in a car chase through New York in a car they’ve stolen, smash windows, dress up as strippers to gain admittance to a private club, and work with an ex-Mossad security honcho who operates shirtless.

Cameos from Mark Wahlberg and James Franco are spot on (Wahlberg as the security guy and Franco as the real Tripplehorn, a thief who has a thing for actress Jeanne Tripplehorn). And Fey and Carell are brilliant as a tired couple with kids and humdrum lives discovering their courageous side and the romance that still lurks at the heart of their marriage. This is romance, comedy and action in one sharp dose.
Zoe Strimpel

Theatre
THE REAL THING
The Old Vic

Toby Stephens turns in a performance of mischievous perfection as Henry, an annoyingly gifted, egotistical playwright, in the Old Vic’s production of Tom Stoppard’s 1983 hit. It’s the second major Stoppard revival in successive years, after last spring’s sparkling version of his 1993 play Arcadia, and more than matches that show for the writer’s trademark wordplay and slicing wit. And while it wanders a little aimlessly at points, it eventually reaches deeper emotional truths than Arcadia managed.

The play opens with an argument between a couple, caused by the apparent discovery of an infidelity. This, however, turns out to be a scene from a new play by the above-mentioned Henry. He’s married to the actress in the scene, Charlotte (Fenella Woolgar), but ends up eloping with her co-star’s wife, Annie (Hattie Morahan). The play then follows the next two years in Henry and Annie’s relationship, delving into the questions of real and merely assumed emotions and commitments, and the role of language in keeping people together and driving them apart.

If that all sounds heavy-going, it’s the opposite. This being Stoppard, every other line contains a beautifully constructed gag, pun or punchline, and he joyfully reels in themes from Sixties pop music to anti-nuclear protesters and the construction of cricket bats along the way. Stephens brings both wonderful comic timing and muscular sincerity to the central role, as Henry learns that no amount of romantic idealism can really protect him from the precariousness of love in the end.
Timothy Barber