Friday, February 14, 2014

About Last Night

Review by Matt Finley

It almost seems appropriate that Valentine’s Day – a ritualized replication of pre-packaged clichés (including, I’m well aware, cynical screeds against Valentine’s Day) – is bringing with it no fewer than three cinematic remakes. For those who hold ROBOCOP sacred and feel like ENDLESS LOVE sounds like too much of a commitment, there’s ABOUT LAST NIGHT, an acceptably funny been-there-done-that rom-com that’s either a watery, declawed adaptation of David Mamet’s play Sexual Perversity in Chicago, or an incisive, ribald remake of previous adaptation, 1986’s ABOUT LAST NIGHT..., depending on whose review you read.

This critic isn’t familiar with either, so my review is basically gonna tell you that ABOUT LAST NIGHT, directed by Steve Pink (HOT TUB TIME MACHINE), is neither blight nor brilliance – an innocuous parade of time-tested observational comedy, bawdy dialogue and romantic interludes happily marching along to a predictable outcome.

The romantic foibles start when Bernie (Kevin Hart), indefatigable player and epitome of bachelorhood, hooks up with Joan (Regina Hall), an oversexed, emotional powder keg. The pair immediately arrange a blind date between Bernie’s best friend, charming, emotionally damaged Danny (Michael Ealy), and Joan’s roommate, charming, emotionally dissatisfied Debbie (Joy Bryant).

Unfolding over the course of a year, and pogoing between the male and female perspective, the film charts the course of both couples’ relationships - Bernie and Joan’s an on-again/off-again minefield of searing arguments and sexual explosions that, for all its heat, refuses to stay lit; Danny and Debbie’s a sweet, slow-burn of sleepovers, exchanged apartment keys, and the eventual move-in that predictability and routine soon threaten to smother.

For a film that clumps its jokes around such stale comedic material as who said “I love you” first and the degree to which a dude is nookie-whipped, it’s miraculous how many laughs NIGHT delivers. This is due in part to agile pacing that allows the film to grab all the low-hanging fruit without sacrificing the intermittent humorous tangent – a throwaway gag involving reverse cowgirl and a chicken mask sticks prominently in my mind.

More than that, though, it’s the strength of the cast.

Hart, of course, nom noms scenery like a veritable Pac-Man, staying true to his hyperactive and affably caustic Kevin Hart thing. It would be a performance of diminishing returns if not for Micheal Ealy, who slips comfortably into the role of straight man without dampening his own quiet charisma, and the movie’s clear standout, SCARY MOVIE veteran Regina Hall, who not only matches Hart’s rambunctious energy, but also executes Joan’s emotional volatility – the hairpin turns from amorous to apoplectic – with impressive comic aplomb. Bryant is the only lame duck, but, then, her character’s such a sopping wet blanket, it’s hard to blame the actress.

With such a strong cast, decent pacing and near constant dialogue, it surprised me that Pink didn’t seem comfortable visually honoring ABOUT LAST NIGHT’s distant roots as a stage play, maybe by limiting the sets or consolidating scenes. Instead, NIGHT jumps from location to location and scene to scene so quickly, it feels almost desperately cinematic… as if Pink feels like movies without explosions, blood or boobs have to earn every inch of screen by giving the audience new things to look at.

Perhaps the strategy was intended as a preemptive strike at the perceived gnat-sized attention spans of mainstream viewers, or an unconscious acknowledgement of said constant dialogue’s lack of true insight or cultural revelation. Regardless, the technique is distracting, and undercuts the ability of the cast.

As a Valentine’s Day trifle, you could do a lot worse than ABOUT LAST NIGHT. It’s quick-paced, reasonably funny and, at just over an hour-and-a-half, will leave you and you’re date plenty of time to get home and get to the good stuff, chicken mask and all. (2 1/2 out of 4 stars)

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