Kevin Hart and Michael Ealy do up Halloween as, respectively, Channing Tatum and — for some reason — Ike Turner. Credit: Matt Kennedy
'About Last Night' Director: Steve Pink Stars: Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy Rating: R 3 (out of 5) Globes
The 1986 rom-com “About Last Night…” claimed to be an adaptation of David Mamet’s coarse, cynical 1974 play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago.” But all it really kept was the opening — a dude tete-a-tete about the previous night’s escapades — plus Chicago. “About Last Night” is even less faithful. In addition to chucking the title ellipsis, it’s set in L.A. And though it starts the same, it quickly devolves into Kevin Hart ad libs about “whiskey d—” and someone having “the John Legend of penises.” The 1986 film actually appears on a TV screen; the characters call it a “landmark.” (It’s not.) But they have a funny way of showing respect.
The bare bones set-up remains: There are two men — nice Danny (Michael Ealy) and crude Bernie (Hart) — and two women — nice Debbie (Joy Bryant) and crude Joan (Regina Hall). (In the Mamet, both men were cads, one less so.) The crude ones hook up first, followed by the nice ones. Initially it seems we’ll be getting tonal whiplash, jerked back and forth between the grotesquely over-the-top and the sickly sweet. They remind one of Eddie Murphy’s distinction between “f—ing” and “making love.” Indeed, the nice couple get the soft-focus R&B PG-13 love scene while the crudes attack the camera with abrasive, comic banging.
But around the second act, Danny and Debbie both relax, reveal unimagined pockets of humor, and even make masturbation jokes. The picture settles into a pleasant groove. (That said, director Steve Pink cuts the picture so quickly that perhaps a "groove" isn't the word for this jagged thing.) While Bernie and Joan angrily split, Danny and Debbie move in together, only to find that cohabitation brings forth unexpected stresses and latent intimacy issues. The screenplay, by “Bachelorette”’s Leslye Headland, aims for a balance between broad yucks and real insight, which luckily is not the same as having heart. It takes the situation seriously, and it doesn’t take sides. Hijinks remain, although having Danny hit up Halloween dressed as Ike Turner — opposite Debbie’s Tina — is a special kind of miscalculation.
Only in the third act does it fumble. It’s not insincere, but it is only semi-sincere, as though Headland had no interest in rotely moving our lead couple from Splitsville back into each other's arms, so she didn’t really try. (The end credits come up unusually fast, as though everyone couldn’t wait to get out of there.) The 1986 film isn’t too hot, but it does handle some of the details better, and it features one of the few excellent turns from Demi Moore. The scene where she confronts boyfriend Rob Lowe (before he was funny), more concerned than hurt or angry about not knowing much about him despite their sharing an apartment, is one bit that should have made the remake crossover.
But the actors help. Ealy is unfairly good-looking, but he has a genuine shyness that makes him charming; he seems legitimately modest, not faux-modest. He and Bryant play the boring couple, but they have just enough personality that their story doesn’t lead to thumb-twiddling as we await Hart and/or Hall’s barnstorming return. (The best part of the movie: no Kevin Hart short jokes.) Admittedly this “About Last Night” aims lower than the first, but that’s never been a bad move for minimal success. And it might not make Mamet mad. After all, it has even less to do with his work than the first.