The must-have ingredients for any classic screwball romantic comedy include the following: a clueless guy, a wisecracking dame, rat-a-tat patter, a dizzy caper plot, a car chase (or better yet, a pie fight), and, naturally, a finale where he realizes that he can’t live without her and vice versa. It’s a formula that’s been pretty much foolproof since the days of It Happened One Night and The Lady Eve. And this week, two wannabes — one old, one new — are hitting stores. First up is Date Night, starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey as a boring suburban New Jersey couple stuck in a rut of parenting, ho-hum jobs, and unsexy foreplay in the boudoir (Fey’s drool-covered mouth-guard bit is an icky gem). Hoping to spice things up, they head into Manhattan for a pricey dinner and get mistaken for a pair of blackmailers wanted by gun-toting goons. Date Night works best when it doesn’t work too hard — Carell and Fey have great chemistry (just watch the outtakes on the EXTRAS). But the second half’s orgy of action scenes feels desperate.
Instead of blowing stuff up, they should’ve taken a look at this week’s second contender: the giddy 1972 farce What’s Up, Doc?, which is out on Blu-ray. In his terrific director’s commentary, Peter Bogdanovich cops to the fact that he’s tipping his ascot to 1938’s Bringing Up Baby, pairing a bookish milquetoast (Ryan O’Neal) with a dishy motormouth who leaves chaos in her wake (Barbra Streisand). The plot, such as it is, revolves around the mix-up of a bunch of identical suitcases (containing jewels, top secret papers, igneous rocks, and lingerie) and the shady characters out to purloin them. But what the movie’s really about is how long it will take O’Neal to wake up and ditch his humorless fiancée (Madeline Kahn) for Streisand. The answer is, of course, after the pie fight. Date Night: B What’s Up, Doc?: A