Rating: R Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Stars: Joy Bryant, Michael Ealy, Regina Hall, Kevin Hart, Christopher McDonald, Paula Patton
Director: Steve Pink
The original version of About Last Night… may not have been the best boomer movie of all time, but many of us fondly recall it as an artifact of dating circa 1986. We may also feel a nostalgic twinge for the chemistry between its two romantic leads, Rob Lowe and Demi Moore, then both at the heyday of their Brat Pack memberships.
The new About Last Night, which opens Friday, is — like the 1986 original — based on David Mamet’s 1974 play Sexual Perversity in Chicago. (The playwright’s provocative title was changed because the studio feared ’80s-era newspapers would refuse to run ads for a film of that name; seems quaint now, no?) The twists in this update have to do with punctuation and casting: The ellipsis got dropped from the title, and the four main characters are now African American. Joy Bryant (TV’s Parenthood) and Michael Ealy (the android on Fox’s cop show Almost Human) take over as Debbie and Danny, the Moore/Lowe roles, while Regina Hall and Kevin Hart play Joan and Bernie, their respective best friends — who, this time around, also couple up.
Oh, and the setting has moved from Chicago to Los Angeles. So whereas the new film bears little resemblance to Mamet’s original play, it does still slyly nod in its direction.
But here’s the main thing about the new About Last Night: It’s really good.
The remade About Last Night is a winning romantic comedy destined to be at least as well remembered as its predecessor. And, thanks mostly to Hart and Hall’s fiery comic chemistry, it’s frequently hilarious too. For movie fans who bemoan Hollywood’s lack of originality, About Last Night offers proof that remakes needn’t be retreads.
The new rendition tips its modern-dating hand from the very first scene. Back in 1986, the opening credits rolled as Bernie, then played by Jim Belushi, riffed a monologue about his previous night’s sexual exploits to an increasingly slack-jawed Danny. In his story, the woman was merely a prop. The new film begins the same way, with Hart’s Bernie springing an outlandish tale on Danny. But then it jumps mid-scene to the woman’s version: Joan unspooling her chaotic bedroom exploits to a similarly shocked Debbie. From there things ping-pong back and forth, dashing toward the story’s climax. The filmmakers use that “he said/she said” device several times, but always to revealing effect, giving this version a fresh, nicely egalitarian lift.
Once under way, the story hews closely to the original’s classic rom-com structure, this time with smartphones and social media. Debbie and Danny hit it off — their relationship gets more serious, their work and previous romantic partners get in the way and — well, you know the drill. About Last Night hits the expected notes (both the high and the low) with grace, all the while showcasing L.A.’s revitalized downtown in a flattering light. As for Bryant and Ealy, they make perfectly likable leads — a nice couple who look terrific together — but the movie truly belongs to Hart and Hall. These borderline lunatics don’t just steal scenes — they rip the entire movie from the hands of its purported leads and run away with it.
We’re happy to follow.
Austin O’Connor is a freelance culture critic in Arlington, Va.
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