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Sunday, March 16, 2014

About Last Night

This was a pretty big week for movies. Some are great, some are terrible and some fall right in between. Ladies and gentlemen... Kevin Hart's 568th film this year! And it's only March!

This review is also up at Channel 24


What it's about

A remake of the 1980s film of the same name, which was itself based on the David Mamet play Sexual Perversity in Chicago, About Last Night follows the ups and downs of the relationships between two couples as we follow them from their first introductions in a bar to their sexual dalliances that soon turn into long-term committed relationships.

What we thought

Despite initial appearances to the contrary, the interesting thing about About Last Night is that it is not merely a pointless remake that exists purely as some sort of politically correct stunt where it tells the same story but with black characters in place of the uber-Caucasian Brat Pack cast of the original. Or, at the very least, if political correctness was actually the original intention, the film should be applauded for elevating so cynical a ploy into something far more worthwhile.

The 1986 original and the current update are almost identical in terms of structure, in terms of story and in terms of a fair portion of the dialogue but, despite the film being anything but racially charged, changing the race of the main characters actually creates an entirely new dynamic that gives the two films quite a different feel from one another.

The remake of About Last Night is nowhere near as on-the-nose (or as terrible) as your average Tyler Perry fair and neither director Steve Pink nor screenwriter Leslye Headland do anything as obvious as moving the action to a more urban setting and, in fact, keep the characters much the same as the original. Our more straight-laced couple, Danny (Michael Ealy) and Debbie (Joy Bryant) are pretty much identical to their counterparts in the original (Rob Lowe and Demi Moore, respectively) and, though Joan (Regina Hall) and Bernie (Kevin Hart) seem to fit much more neatly into the stereotypical comedy black characters, they actually aren't any more fast-talking or wisecracking than Elizabeth Perkins and Jim Belushi were in the original.


It's amazing then that with all these similarities in place - having the same dialogue delivered by the same characters, in the same setting, telling the same story – the remake is broader, funnier and largely more enjoyable than the original. It does share much of the same problems in that it is pretty badly paced and it never quite manages to mesh the comical with the realistic with anywhere near the kind of precision that someone like Woody Allen does at his best but it's still a perfectly decent romantic comedy/ drama that betters the original at every turn.

Kevin Hart and Regina Hall do tend to run the gamut between funny and incredibly irritating and they do at times deliver their lines with just a bit too much hysterical overzealousness here, but when they hit their mark, they're far funnier than anything in the original. Either way, it's amazing how well they adapt to dialogue that is generally somewhat out of their usual wheelhouse.

The biggest improvement here though is that Michael Ealy and Joy Byrant play their parts with far more depth, humanity and humour than Lowe and Moore who may well have been two of the prettiest people around in the mid-80s, but their acting left a lot to be desired. Rob Lowe has since become one of my favourite actors with some truly sterling work in The West Wing, Thank You for Smoking, Parks and Recreation and Behind the Candelabra but he was pathetically wooden in About Last Night. Demi Moore, on the other hand, may be strikingly beautiful but has never been one of my favourite actresses - though even she has seldom been worse than she was in that particularly drippy role. Even without the comparisons though, Ealy and Byrant make for two incredibly sympathetic, likeable romantic leads and they go some way towards paving over the film's tendency towards both melodrama and overly broad comedy. It's worth watching just for them.


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