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Film Review: ‘About Last Night’

This serviceable remake is aimed at broader sensibilities than the 1986 original.

With:

Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Regina Hall, Joy Bryant, Christopher McDonald, Adam Rodriguez, Joe Lo Truglio, Paula Patton.

Few may remember “About Last Night … ,” Edward Zwick’s 1986 screen adaptation of David Mamet’s play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago,” but this serviceable remake of the same name (sans ellipsis) is clearly aimed at broader sensibilities. As Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant traverse the cliched trials and tribulations of romantic entanglement, director Steve Pink balances the main story with the more flippant hijinks of comedian Kevin Hart (“Ride Along”), matched by a playfully bombastic Regina Hall. The jokes are hit-or-miss, but a Valentine’s Day release and Hart’s committed fanbase should nonetheless drive the Screen Gems item to strong B.O. numbers.

While the original Rob Lowe-Demi Moore vehicle received strong critical attention during its release, it seems to have lost its cultural cachet, leaving this black-cast redo unbridled by any reputation to live up to. Headland’s script mostly follows the same plot points, structured by the various holidays of the year, but it balances any sentimentalism with an over-the-top vulgarity and a more open sexual energy than its predecessor.

The pic opens with a burst of zippy energy as Bernie (Hart) and Joan (Hall) relay the events of their crazy night to his co-worker Danny (Ealy) and her roommate Debbie (Bryant) before a double date. While their evening initially looks like a bomb, with Bernie and Joan zipping off to the bathroom, Danny and Debbie find themselves entwined in something more intimate. Soon their weeknight getaways develop into a full-blown relationship as Debbie moves in with Danny, despite the adamant protests of Bernie and Joan. But as Danny attempts to change careers (an expendable subplot involving an Irish pub run by Chris McDonald), their bond runs into troubled waters, testing their levels of commitment and passion.

All this might seem a bit more conventional than it did in 1986, and it’s surprising to see Headland’s name on the project, given the acidic wit of “Bachelorette.” Likewise, and Pink could have found more inventive ways to invigorate these familiar beats than the nine montages included in the film’s not particularly long running time. Still, the actors give the proceedings a mostly quick-witted repartee that prevails over the occasionally stale script.

Ealy and Bryant have a natural chemistry that at least makes their initial attraction work, despite their characters’ ultimately predictable path. Much more entertaining is the on-again-off-again banter between Hart and Hall, constantly gnawing at each other to delightful effect; Hart extends his brand of wide-eyed facial movements and uncontrollable volume levels, well paired with Hall’s viciously snappy gestures and punchy tone. Their characters’ relationship is rife with nasty paybacks, kooky sex, and eventually a witty retort that brings the film closer to Mamet’s original takeaway. Audiences are less likely to remember the film’s central romance than sequences involving Hart’s squeals and a certain chicken costume.

Pink makes the slightest nod toward ’70s flair (the opening title shot recalls “Boogie Nights”), and Michael Barrett’s cinematography lends some of the nightlife backdrops a bit of flash. The editing by Tracy Wadmore-Smith and Shelly Westerman matches the tempo of the often fast-paced dialogue.

Film Review: 'About Last Night'

Reviewed at AMC Empire 25, New York, Feb. 11, 2014. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 100 MIN.

Production:

A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Screen Gems presentation of an Olive Bridge Entertainment and Rainforest Films production. Produced by Will Gluck, William Packer. Executive producers, Alicia Emmrich, Glenn S. Gainor.

Crew:

Directed by Steve Pink. Screenplay, Leslye Headland, based on the screenplay by Tim Kazurinsky and Denise DeClue, based on the play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” by David Mamet; Camera (HD color, widescreen), Michael Barrett; editors, Tracy Wadmore-Smith, Shelly Westerman; music, Marcus Miller; production designer, Jon Gary Steele; costume designer, Ann Foley; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/Datasat), Steven Morrow; assistant director, Mark Anthony Little; casting, Ron Digman, Valorie Massalas.

With:

Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Regina Hall, Joy Bryant, Christopher McDonald, Adam Rodriguez, Joe Lo Truglio, Paula Patton.

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