This weekend at the movies feels like a trip back to the 1980s in Doc Brown’s DeLorean, with remakes of “RoboCop,” “Endless Love” and “About Last Night.” Happily, one of them rediscovers a bit of the old magic. Though it’s based on a David Mamet play now 40 years old, “About Last Night” feels as fresh and vital as any romantic comedy hot off the script pile.
The film boasts a black leading cast, but it hasn’t been rewritten to pigeonhole characters by race. The cheerful, fluffy story is about the universal fundamentals of coupledom. When does casual sex tip over into commitment? Can the volatility that fuels hot infatuation be maintained? Or will it inevitably lead to tears and tantrums? What are the broader implications of a guy giving a girl a drawer of her own in his bedroom dresser? Mamet wrote his play in the early days of no-strings intimacy, and the issues are as relevant, funny and current for today’s hookup culture.
The film follows the highs and lows of two parallel friends-with-benefits relationships, one bickering and raunchy, the other dreamy and soulful, both entertainingly turbulent.
Bickering Kevin Hart and Regina Hall ricochet across the screen, peppering each other with snarky one-liners. Their straight foils Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant bring breezy energy to their plot line, with his past romances and vague plans for the future colliding with her uptight, jealous careerism. In outline they sound like Tyler Perry clichés, but director Steve Pink (“Hot Tub Time Machine”) and screenwriter Leslye Headland render them as vivid individuals (especially Hart, who could wring laughs from an eviction notice).
The filmmakers know exactly what the audience wants in this kind of picture: attractive stars, big-city eye candy and breezy montages cut to funk and soul classics to keep the pace zipping along. Though there are some current references, like a throwaway line about John Legend (who contributes a tune to the soundtrack) and a good deal of improv from Hart and Hall, the story sticks close to the spirit of the 1987 film version. There’s even a nice nod to the original film as Bryant and Ealy watch it in bed, Chinese takeout cartons on their stomachs, debating whether it’s a chick flick or a guy flick.
This new edition also aims for that kind of all-demo appeal, and it largely succeeds. Though it peddles the obligatory wish fulfillment of friction-free social mobility and happy-ever-after finales, it doesn’t simply pander to viewers’ favorite fantasies.
The story bangs the characters up a bit along the way. Ealy gets fired from his job in a restaurant-supply company for secretly helping a bar owner friend behind on his payments. Hall, for all her snake-necked sass, gets treated badly enough by Hart that you feel her hurt. The entire cast drinks up in scene after scene after scene to the point that an intervention seems appropriate. Still, the movie’s industrial-strength good cheer and irrepressible energy percolate along.
Hart is appearing in his third feature in two months (after “Grudge Match” and “Ride Along”), but he’s in no danger of wearing out his welcome. He’s a comic triple threat, creating relatable if outrageous characters, ad-libbing like a champ and fearlessly throwing himself into physical comedy.
In a Halloween bar scene he bops around energetically in a Chippendales bow tie and thong, declaring to the room, “I’m Channing Tatum!” His bedroom scene involving Hall and a rubber chicken mask is a panic. Here’s hoping he soon breaks out of ensembles and gets a lead role, and a film, to call his own.