Kevin Hart — one of the most popular stand-up comedians in America and also one of its biggest box-office draws — starts a conversation about his new romantic comedy, “About Last Night,” by inquiring about . . . last night.
“Didn’t I see you yesterday? You weren’t there last night?” he asks, referring to the premiere of the rom-com remake that took place in the District the evening before this interview. As this reporter says that she wasn’t there, Regina Hall, Hart’s lit-firecracker of a love interest in the film, interrupts.
“That’s his pickup line,” she warns. “Be careful. When he starts saying, ‘Did I meet you?’ ‘Did I see you last night?’ ”
“I don’t have pickup lines,” Hart says. “Do I have pickup lines?” He looks to a nearby publicist for support, but she responds to this question the way the wisest PR people always respond to questions: by saying nothing.
“He looked at me [earlier] and said, ‘Regina, did we work together before?’ ” Hall continues. “This is what he does.”
Hart then turns to his co-star, stares at her for a second and deadpans: “Regina, right?” She bursts out laughing.
This may be what Hart does, but pushing each other’s buttons is what Hart and Hall do together, whether they’re chatting on a February morning with a journalist or engaging in a volatile, on-again, off-again relationship in “About Last Night,” a reboot of the 1986 dramedy starring Rob Lowe and Demi Moore, this time starring a predominantly African American cast. Like its predecessor, which was based on the David Mamet play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago,” the 2014 film focuses on Danny and Debbie, a couple — played by Silver Spring native Michael Ealy and “Parenthood” star Joy Bryant — fighting through the conflicts that arise from cohabitation. But in a break from the first movie, Danny’s best friend Bernie (Hart) and Debbie’s ex-roommate Joan (Hall, also a local who grew up in Northwest Washington) are involved in their own heated relationship, one that involves arguments that ruin Thanksgiving dinners, shouting matches in neighborhood bars and vigorous sex while wearing chicken masks.
With their charged game of verbal tennis — which is less a volley than a series of nonstop, overhead smashes — Hart and Hall supply “About Last Night” with much of its fizzy energy. Essentially, they steal the movie. That act of Valentine’s Day weekend thievery (the movie opens Friday) comes at an opportune moment for their careers and, perhaps, the rom-com genre in general.
Both actors are fresh off of notable box-office success. Hall, 43, co-starred in last fall’s “The Best Man Holiday,” a sequel to 1999’s “The Best Man.” “Holiday” surprised some industry observers when, in its debut weekend, it nearly outgrossed superhero hit “Thor: The Dark World.” As for Hart, 34, he may be the key reason that “Ride Along,” a buddy comedy in which he gets schooled by a veteran cop played by Ice Cube, became the first movie this year to earn more than $100 million. It was No. 1 at the box office for three consecutive weeks, until it got dethroned last weekend by “The Lego Movie.”
Both actors have logged many screen credits to get to this place, often crossing paths while doing so. While they’ve never played love interests before, Hall and Hart have appeared together in several movies, including 2012’s “Think Like a Man,” 2010’s “Death at a Funeral” and a couple of the entries in the “Scary Movie” franchise. It’s no wonder that, as they sit comfortably beside each other on a sofa at Georgetown’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel — Hart in a black sweater and khaki tuxedo pants, Hall in a black blazer, sparkly button-down and eyelashes that practically stretch from that sofa to M Street — they speak in overlapping sentences and giggle over shared jokes.
“For me, you know, I came out the womb hilarious,” Hart says when asked when he first knew he was funny. “As soon as I was born — ”
Hall jumps in: “The doctors laughed?”
Hart continues: “I did a bit about the umbilical cord being wrapped around my neck. I was like, ‘Hey, you guys just want me to hang here?’ And I killed. The room was like, ‘Who is this kid?’ ”
Hall first encountered that kid while working on 2003’s “Scary Movie 3,” one of the Wayans brothers’ horror spoofs in which she reprised her role as the mouthy Brenda Meeks and Hart earned a small part by doing some skillful ad-libbing during the table read.
“At the time,” Hart says, “I thought that was going to launch my career.’”
Instead, Hart’s climb was slower and steadier. He continued progressively building a loyal audience with his stand-up — according to Forbes, as of last year, he ranked sixth on the list of top-earning comedians — and also tried to capitalize on any tiny part Hollywood would toss his way. “I was the cameo king for probably, you know, 14 or 15 years,” he says.
Hall’s roles were juicier than cameos, but the more recent, significant ones — as Jamie Foxx’s wife in “Law Abiding Citizen” or a single mother dating a grown-up mama’s boy in “Think Like a Man” — often nestled her within larger ensemble casts. In “About Last Night,” she gets more room to stand — and rant and berate Hart — on her own. If the movie does well, this could be a break-out moment for the Immaculata grad.
And, perhaps, it could be a rejuvenating Valentine’s Day moment for the romantic comedy, a genre whose decline as a reliable box office force has been widely documented.
For the past two years, no rom-coms have opened on the ultimate date weekend of the year. Instead, melodramas such as “The Vow” and “Safe Haven” have rolled out, byproducts of what could be called “The Notebook” Effect: Hollywood’s fixation on love stories of a more serious, Nicholas Sparks-ish ilk. “About Last Night” faces competition this weekend from two movies that fall in that category and, coincidentally, were inspired by ’80s-era source material: the remake of “Endless Love” and “A Winter’s Tale,” based on the 1983 novel by Mark Helprin. But “About Last Night” is the only one that explicitly shoots for funny. Hart and Hall hope that shot will resonate with audiences on this, the red-roses-and-Russell-Stover holiday.
“One thing that everybody shares is laughter,” Hart says. “Everybody loves to laugh.”
“I don’t laugh,” Hall says, mock-seriously. “I’ve never laughed in my life.” Then she gets serious for real: “Do you know I know a woman who won’t laugh because she doesn’t want to get smile lines? Can you imagine? Don’t you think smile lines are beautiful on a face?”
Hart: “I can make her laugh.”
Hall: “You can make her laugh?”
Hart: “I can make her laugh.”
Hall: “Okay. Make me laugh.”
Hart: “Right now?”
Hart: “How do you make a napkin dance?” Pause. “You put a little boogie in it.”
Hall holds a stone-cold-somber expression for maybe two seconds. Then she breaks. “That’s so stupid,” she giggles.
This is what they do. And apparently, they could do it all day long.
Chaney is a freelance writer.
(100 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R.
It contains sexual situations,
obscenity and brief drug use.