When you have a comedy vehicle being steered by Tina Fey and Steve Carell, it’s very easy to go along for the ride… no matter how outrageous the journey.
Director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian) knows this, and gleefully hands the wheel of this silly but often hilarious mistaken-identity caper over to the two gifted comedic actors, whose ease with each other and the (obvious) improvisational flourishes they add to the material make the whole thing hugely enjoyable.
The pair co-star as suburban New Jersey parents Claire and Phil Foster, who both lament the lack of spark in their ho-hum marriage. When they decide to head into Manhattan for “dinner in the city” at a highly exclusive restaurant, they wind up assuming the reservation of an absentee couple named the Tripplehorns (James Franco, Mila Kunis), and quickly find themselves caught up in a bizarre blackmail-gone-awry adventure involving dirty cops (Common, Jimmi Simpson), a smarmy D.A. (William Fichtner) and the mobster (Ray Liotta) at the center of it all.
Enlisting the aid of a beefy and perpetually shirtless security expert (Mark Wahlberg), Claire and Phil navigate their way through the Big Apple – on land and water – at a manic, break-neck pace, in their bid to avoid being knocked off by any one of their increasingly agitated, gun-wielding pursuers.
Much, if not all, of the film’s success lies in its two leads. The story itself is fun but ridiculous, and the action – which continuously ups the ante for our hapless heroes by following one insane scenario (Claire and Phil commit a B&E) with another, even more ridiculous one (Claire and Phil pose as a stripper and her pimp… and pole dance) – veers very close to over-the-top, so much so that it may wind up putting off more discriminating audience members seeking higher-brow comedy.
That said, with Fey and Carrell at the helm, everything lifts off the page and flies right off the screen. They are understated and subtle, with winning chemistry and off-the-charts likeability, and their frequent comic asides or under-the-breath comments are delivered with perfection. Though some of Claire and Phil’s antics seem wildly out-of-character and unbelievable (see: the pole dancing), the two actors sell it enough that it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. And, even better, when the film slows down for a moment to catch its breath and allow its characters to open their hearts a little, it’s genuinely sweet and moving.
Overall, with a movie like this and stars like that, there’s only one question anyone really needs ask: is it funny?
And the answer is a hearty, resounding, “YES.”