It's been years since movie fans could count on a screen couple to make them laugh with regularity-or feel like falling in love.
Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan did just that over three films, two of which became major hits. But no one has stepped into their shoes in the interim.
Few people are clamoring to see Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler together again after The Ugly Truth, even though it faired well at the box office last year.
And while Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson co-starred in two recent romantic comedies, the less said about Fool's Gold, the better.
Enter Tina Fey and Steve Carell. The NBC sitcom stars have proved themselves on the big screen already, and now they're being teamed up for the comedy Date Night. They play a long-married couple whose attempt at a romantic evening backfire thanks to a bad case of mistaken identity.
Have we finally found our Hanks/Ryan of the 21st century?
Fandango Editor Chuck Walton says the producers of Date Night bolstered their new film with funny supporting players, from Kristen Wiig to Mark Wahlberg. But it's the Fey/Carell duo that will make or break the film.
"The ads have been smartly focused on the movie's main appeal-watching these ace comic performers riff together," Walton says.
The duo, who forged their comic skills in Chicago's illustrious Second City improv program, bring more comic chops than Hanks or Ryan ever could, he says.
Fey and Carell are typically teamed with actors who are supposed to play the straight man-or person, in Fey's case. Think Catherine Keener in Carell‘s 40-Year-Old Virgin and Greg Kinnear in Baby Mama.
"Here, audiences can look forward to double the laughs," he says, adding early reviews indicate the duo‘s comic chemistry is as genuine-and complementary-as predicted.
So if Date Night is a hit, it could mean more Fey/Carell match-ups. But the pair will have to be careful to sustain their on-screen success.
"To warrant future movie matchups, the duo will need to prove to audiences that they're genuinely fun together onscreen," he says, something hinted at in the outtakes attached to the film‘s credits. "Instead of competing for attention, they need to remind moviegoers why we fell in love with them in the first place."
That goes back to a key element of the Hanks/Ryan connection. Audiences not only enjoyed seeing them on the big screen, they believed they were watching two lost souls making a love connection.
That's a trickier stunt to pull off than a spit gag or pratfall.
Walton says Fey and Carell have the right person behind the camera to set their future pairings in motion.
Director Shawn Levy is coming off yet another hit, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. That film asked Levy to juggle a gaggle of comic players weaned on improv.
That sense of spontaneity could be crucial to "Date Night."
"The movie will rise or fall on the duo's ability to have fun with the audience and each other," he says.