In the 1980s, when “About Last Night . . . ” came out, it quickly became a cinematic signifier for its era, the ultimate chronicle of youthful romantic anxiety and gamesmanship, starring the avatars of their generation, Demi Moore and Rob Lowe.
Nearly 30 years on, the year-in-the-life rom-com has been spruced up and given some timely punch, even though its clichés — of commitment-phobic men and needy women — are hoarier than ever. The action has been transported from Chicago to Los Angeles, where Daniel (Michael Ealy) and Debbie (Joy Bryant) meet after their respective best friends drag them along on a drunken double date. They’re both so sensational looking that their wariness at first seems impossibly put on — don’t people this attractive have some kind of innate mutual heat-seeking system? But soon they’ve embarked on an affair that may or may not lead to something more serious, as they work out just how love, sex and relationships fit together beyond the throes of bedroom passion.
Ealy and Bryant slip into their roles with ease, and “About Last Night” possesses the surface sheen and escapist prettiness that may be the first prerequisite of any successful romantic comedy. If Daniel’s issues with his job seem to pounce out of nowhere and Debbie’s increasingly furrowed forehead bespeaks tiresome shrewish stereotypes, the actors themselves have enough native charisma to make their characters’ most annoying traits tolerable.
What isn’t tolerable is director Steve Pink’s tendency to cut-cut-cut back and forth within scenes, presumably to infuse visual interest into what is essentially a series of pictures of people talking. As a remake of “About Last Night,” this version is the remake of an adaptation of David Mamet’s one-act play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago,” but the dialogue doesn’t bear the playwright’s signature bite or flair. It’s vulgar and sexually graphic, but not particularly observant. The ebbs and flows of Daniel and Debbie’s romance never veer from the tenets of Screenwriting 101. (Among the film’s archaic pivot points is who says “I love you” first, and someone actually uses the term “the L word” to discuss it. Really?)
In fact, the biggest surprise of “About Last Night” is the chemistry between Kevin Hart and Regina Hall, who, as the central couple’s best friends, steal the movie whenever they’re on screen. Caustic, profane and propelled by hysterically pitched improvisatory brio, the two grow funnier as the movie wears on — to the point that, after years of not understanding Hart’s appeal, this viewer is finally, maybe, starting to get it.
“About Last Night” may be about Daniel and Debbie, but it’s Hart and Hall who make it worth watching. They take palatable but not exceptional cinematic hay and turn it into comic gold.
★ ★ ½
R. At area theaters. Contains sexual situations, obscenity and brief drug use. 100 minutes.