The 1986 film “About Last Night” is remembered as much for its lead couple’s best friends/sounding boards (a boorish Jim Belushi and a prickly Elizabeth Perkins) as for the couple (Rob Lowe and Demi Moore).
The makers of the raucous remake clearly recognized those sidekicks’ value. They have seized on this aspect of the story, casting box-office-golden Kevin Hart (“Ride Along,” “Think Like a Man”) as wing man and Regina Hall (“The Best Man Holiday”), who is the electric Hart’s match in comic timing, as wing woman.
In the new “About,” sidekicks Bernie and Joan are not just antagonists, as in the original, but antagonists who have wild sex with each other. Their hate-myself-for-loving-you sparks create surprisingly consistent comedy given the thin premise of such a bond.
Hart and Hall (also from 2012’s “Think Like a Man”) appear energized by each other. Many of their riffs feel improvised. Yet these exchanges remain tight, not self-indulgent.
And unlike in the first film, drawn from male-centric writer David Mamet’s play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago,” Joan is not a sad sack. Bernie and Joan are equally and believably enthusiastic in verbally and physically expressing their prodigious libidos.
Director Steve Pink (“Hot Tub Time Machine”) and screenwriter Leslye Headland, adapting the 1986 film’s screenplay, devote so much of the first half hour to Bernie and Joan that it seems the movie might back-burner their beautiful friends Danny and Debbie (Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant). Danny and Debbie meet through Joan and Bernie this time, not the other way around.
Alas, Danny’s and Debbie’s budding, fitful romance will consume at least half of the film, even though they are a quarter as interesting as Joan and Bernie.
Some of it comes down to Ealy’s and Bryant’s ages. The 1986 film followed Danny’s and Debbie’s one-night stand, which turned into a relationship that challenged its young couple’s ability to navigate disagreements and cohabitation. That it did so with sexual frankness and also gave equal weight to the female and male perspectives (via Danny’s and Debbie’s consults with the sidekicks) made the film unusual for its time.
This rather simple story still hinges on the actors playing neophytes at relationships actually looking like neophytes. Lowe and Moore were in their early 20s, so the setup worked then.
But Ealy (also from “Think”) is 40 and Bryant (TV’s “Parenthood”) is 39. So their characters’ worries about what it means for one person in the relationship to have said “I love you” before the other comes off less as new-relationship jitters than arrested development.
It might be different had the remake adjusted more to suit its actors’ ages. Were this Danny’s and Debbie’s hesitations about relationships based on bad experiences, it would be more understandable.
“About” makes an attempt, but a weak one, by presenting Danny as hampered by a past relationship with a controlling woman. But the ex (Paula Patton) is such as ridiculous figure that you can’t believe she controlled anyone.
Danny’s and Debbie’s back stories were better developed in the original. Debbie’s pre-Danny affair with her married boss seemed seedy and self-esteem-crushing. Here that relationship is glossed over.
Bryant is lovely and natural on screen, but her character is a cipher. The most interesting thing about her is Joan is her best friend.
The camera loves Ealy, but he grimaces so much it’s hard to discern when Danny is happy and when he’s not.
Hart is only 34, and Hall 43, but they look like contemporaries. The remake’s character age advancements succeed with Joan and Bernie because this pair developed their passionate, if sometimes misguided, views on life and love from having done some real living.
“About” stands out among the three 1980s remakes out this week – “RoboCop” and “Endless Love” are the others – for recasting the original’s four white leads with African American actors. But there’s no particular cultural bent to this film, a retelling of the color-blind story of navigating romance.
Remaking the film with this cast, especially the on-fire Hart, was smart in targeting the same audiences who came out for the glossy romantic comedies “Think” (much of whose cast appears here) and “Best Man’s Holiday.” And there’s just enough existing fondness for the first “About” to give this remake more cachet than a new story with the same cast.
The remake moves the story from Chicago to Los Angeles without losing much. Director Pink prefers downtown nighttime cityscapes to sun and palm trees. Most scenes take place indoors, in bars or in Danny’s well-appointed loft. But a subplot involving Danny, who works for a restaurant supply business and an Irish pub, would have fit better in Chicago. The City of Angels is not known for Irish pubs.
Headland has retained some of Mamet’s chewy dialogue while omitting its more stilted lines. Hart handles his reams of dialogue like a pro, though it’s hard to tell the Mametian from the Hartian, apart from guessing that the funniest lines likely were improvised by Hart.
Call The Bee’s Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.