DATE NIGHT:

What makes Steve Carell (THE 40-YEAR OLD VIRGIN) and Tina Fey (BABY MAMA) such a terrific screen team is that they’re both such clever, witty individuals that they’d naturally belong together. As a suburban married couple, the duo becomes the target of a pair of hit men (Common, Jimmi Simpson) after they “steal” a no-show couple’s reservation at a snooty, overcrowded Manhattan eatery (“What kind of people are you?”). What follows is a series of comic mix-ups, narrow escapes and run-ins with off-center characters that include a shirtless security guard (Mark Wahlberg), a hard-bargaining babysitter (Leighton Meester), a Mob boss (Ray Liotta) and a pair of blackmailers (James Franco, Mila Kunis) who have their own unique methods of keeping their marital fires burning. Not all of the situations are believable but the likeability of the two lead actors counters those deficiencies by making the primary plot involving enough to carry an audience along with them on their improbable journey. Carell and Fey, understanding the conventions of humor, play their scenes straight while letting the inherently crazy scenarios they stumble into play themselves out around them for maximum effect. Josh Klausner’s screenplay fuses screwball comedy with filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock’s (NORTH BY NORTHWEST) recurring theme of ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances requiring them to perform extraordinary deeds to get matters resolved. Here, it works even though I wondered if the funniest dialogue in the movie had been improvised and not necessarily scripted. What matters, though, is the quality of the finished product and popular movie director Shawn Levy (NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM) manages to come up with an adult crowd-pleaser relatable to anyone whose marriage is built on the foundation of daily monotony and routine. CRITIC’S GRADE: B

CRITIC’S NOTE: My favorite movie memory of my father, who died 35 years ago today, was when we saw BLAZING SADDLES (1974). I never saw him laugh so uncontrollably and with such unabashed fervor as he did during the infamous campfire scene of that riotous Western parody from Mel Brooks. A few weeks ago, I saw the same sequence on cable television and I found it as hilarious now as my father did when he saw it. You always did know good comedy, Dad.