‘About Last Night’: Smart, sexy and a long way from Mamet
By RICHARD ROEPER Movie Columnist February 13, 2014 1:56PM
Though compatible in bed, Bernie (Kevin Hart) and Joan (Regina Hall) fight a lot in “About Last Night.” | SCREEN GEMS PHOTO
‘ABOUT LAST NIGHT’ ★★★
Bernie Kevin Hart
Danny Michael Ealy
Joan Regina Hall
Debbie Joy Bryant
Screen Gems presents a film directed by Steve Pink and written by Leslye Headland, based on a screenplay by Tim Kazurinsky and Denise DeClue that was based on David Mamet’s play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago.” Running time: 100 minutes. Rated R (for sexual content, language and brief drug use). Opens Friday at local theaters.
Updated: March 15, 2014 6:11AM
When David Mamet penned the first version of the hilariously vulgar stage work “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” in the 1970s, it’s doubtful he envisioned the lasting power of his sparse, four-character play about four “urban males and females” in their 20s negotiating their way through sex and friendship and one-night stands and love over a nine-week period in “various spots around the North Side of Chicago, a Big City on a Lake.”
Surely Mamet didn’t imagine the characters of Dan Shapiro, Bernard Litko, Deborah Soloman and Joan Webber played by African Americans in a 21st century version in which texting and phone etiquette are plot elements (as they are in every romantic comedy set in present day). And though the second film version of “About Last Night” bears even less of a connection to Mamet’s play than the 1986 version did, the four leads are enormously likable and there’s still enough sharp, raunchy, sexy humor for me to recommend this version.
Before we get to the good stuff, a few gripes.
Very little of Mamet’s signature rat-a-tat dialogue survives. (“What did I just tell you?” “She said that?” “I hope to tell you.” “Nineteen years old?” “Nineteen, twenty.” “And she was a pro?” “So at this point I don’t know.”) A few lines from Mamet’s play and/or the 1986 Tim Kazurinsky-Denise DeClue adaptation do survive, and they garnered just as many laughs from the screening audience in 2014 as they did from a screening audience in 1986. (As I recall. It’s been a while.)
The other thing is, this version of “About Last Night” is set in … Los Angeles, of all the damn places. Come on! Where’s the 16-inch softball, the Wrigley Field montage, the Division Street bar scenes?
There also are a couple of scenes where characters we really like throw temper tantrums that cross the line from believable to just ugly. Not that wonderful people can’t behave so poorly, but in both cases, it’s a bit jarring and definitely way out of character for these good-hearted, normally considerate people.
Now here’s the good stuff. The truth is, while the young Demi Moore and the even younger Rob Lowe were equally pretty in the mid-1980s, neither one of them could act much, and the original “About Last Night …” suffered a bit with those two in the leads. (Jim Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins stole every scene they were in as the respective best friends.) In the 2014 edition, Michael Ealy is Danny and Joy Bryant is Debbie. They’re just as attractive, and the acting is an upgrade. The downside: The 40-year-old Ealy and the 37-year-old Bryant seem too old to be playing people who seem be experiencing their first (or maybe second) serious grown-up relationship.
Kevin Hart’s Energizer comedic style is well suited to playing Danny’s ever-horny, trash-talking best buddy, though it seems to be almost some sort of inside joke for Hart to be playing a guy named Bernie Litko. (Other homages to the roots of this story: a brief glimpse of Lowe and Moore in the original on a TV screen, and one character making make a brief trip to Chicago.) Bernie and Regina Hall’s Joan have an immediate and combustible sexual chemistry, but once they’re out of bed and in public they’re at each other’s throats. Some of their fight scenes are truly funny. Some are just loud and screechy.
While Joan and Bernie alternate between kinky sex and loathing each other, Danny and Debbie have a one-night stand that blossoms into something genuine, something with long-term potential. Director Steve Pink, whose resume ranges from writing the sublime adaptation of “High Fidelity” to directing the ridiculously hilarious “Hot Tub Time Machine,” does a nice job of capturing the rhythms of a relationship, from the giddy early weeks through the comfortable nesting stages through the restlessness and the arguments that are always about more than just the thing the argument is about.
We get a few half-hearted efforts at side plots: Danny’s career struggles; Debbie fending off the advances of her boss (and ex-boyfriend); the arrival of Danny’s gorgeous train wreck of an ex (Paula Patton). The veteran character actor Christopher McDonald has some nice scenes as a pub owner who was best friends with Danny’s late father.
There’s only a little sexual perversity and very little Chicago in this version of “About Last Night,” but there’s still plenty of talk about what happened on various “last nights,” and how it will play it out in the bright sunlight of the real world.
The last time we saw the 1986 version of Danny and Debbie, she was wearing denim overalls and he was in a “Mother’s” T-shirt, and they both had feathered hairstyles, and she was on her bicycle in Grant Park and he was abandoning his softball game to chase after her, and we felt they had a real chance.
I won’t tell you how it ends with this edition of Danny and Debbie, but we’re once again rooting for them to grow up, tough it out and maybe grow old together.