About Last Night | C
Remakes in Hollywood are as inevitable as potholes in mid-winter, but romantic comedies are generally less susceptible to “rehash syndrome,” because there’s nothing that original about the endless war of the sexes. There is precious little need to repeat material, when the majority of the genre is, like the Taco Bell menu, just an endless re-shuffling of the same basic ingredients. Boy meets girl, usually in a cute way, they fall for each other hard, have sex, and then struggle to find distractions and complications to screw it all up for a few reels.
To underscore the universality, About Last Night is a re-working of a Rob Lowe-Demi Moore vehicle from 1986, which was itself adapted from David Mamet’s stage play Sexual Perversity in Chicago, which debuted in the mid-’70s. What passes for new wrinkles are that the leads are portrayed by African-Americans, and the setting has changed from the north side of Chicago to downtown L.A. These might seem like cosmetic changes, but in a movie where the plot points are so shopworn, and the outcomes so bloody predictable, all that’s left is to hope the stars have some chemistry and place them in a believable setting. About Last Night succeeds on only one of those counts.
The script, adapted by Leslye Headland, updates the dialogue and softens Mamet’s raging cynicism and musings on misogyny, while awkwardly retaining a bit of the attitudes and mentalities of the original. Casual talk about casual sex might have been mildly shocking back in the Ford administration, but here it plays like tamer pay cable sitcom banter. Discussions about if a girl regularly sleeping over becomes co-habitation when she has her own underwear drawer are evergreen, but they are hardly shocking or insightful today, especially in a culture awash in social media and sexting. It also requires more than a bit of flexible thinking to imagine Jim Belushi and Kevin Hart in the same role, and that strange juxtaposition is both intriguing and disconcerting. There’s something admirable about the kind of colorblind casting at work here, but, despite the L.A backdrop, internally, the characters still seem stuck on the corner of Clark and Addison. Case in point: These are black guys who hang out in an Irish pub every night, and they obsess about baseball, even though nobody loves the Dodgers with quite the same zeal as Cubs fans love their losers. At one point, Hart does a bit about fooling a girlfriend into thinking he’s Jewish, which is as bizarre and clumsy a gag as it sounds. These echoes of the past haunt the proceedings, as does a scene of Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant actually watching the 1986 film. Too cute, guys.
That any of this works at all is thanks to the talented performers, led by the diminutive powerhouse Kevin Hart, a rising star who forces big laughs out of some shaky material through the power of his improvisational tongue. Everyone else responds to Hart’s rhythm, especially Regina Hall, who ably spars with the comic in their fiery, squabbling, back-and-forth relationship.
She’s never ashamed or outmatched, even in a sex scene involving a rubber chicken mask. If nothing else, that’s an excellent résumé builder.
About Last Night is rated R, and has a running time of 100 minutes.